South Carolina Republicans who want to block Democrats from voting in GOP primaries have been unable to persuade state lawmakers to change election law, and they’re stalled in federal court. Now they’re turning to party rules, trying to line up enough delegates to make a big switch in GOP practice: Picking nominees through a vote of activists at a state convention in 2014 instead of through the current open primary in which anyone can vote. Favoring the change, which would have to be approved by 75 percent of delegates at a state convention, are some activists who have long complained that the current system facilitates the nomination of so-called RINOS – or Republicans in Name Only. These activists argue that non-Republicans must be kept from voting in GOP primaries if the party is going to put forward nominees who reflect the conservative values of its rank and file. But longtime Republicans who helped build the state party over the years say the current system has served the GOP well.
It’s a key reason, they say, that Republicans dominate South Carolina politics today, controlling both houses of the state Legislature, the Governor’s Mansion and every constitutional office, and every seat in Congress except one. “It’s like a business model,” said Katon Dawson, a former state GOP chairman who favors a primary system. “We’ve built a business model that works and has become profitable and to go tinker with a businss model that has been successful is dangerous.”
Advocates of the status quo also say the change would threaten South Carolina’s political claim to fame — its first-in-the-South presidential primary, though the would-be reformers deny that.
The battle between the feuding factions will play out this month as county parties around the state vote on their representatives to state party conventions for the next two years. Both sides have campaigns going in an attempt to influence Republicans statewide.