Georgia GOP eyes nominating conventions. Here’s why it matters.

The Georgia Republican Party will vote Saturday on whether to nominate its candidates at a convention rather than by regular primaries, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Georgia Republicans are weighing an election shift that could reshape the state’s political landscape by giving grass-roots activists tremendous new clout in picking the party’s nominee.

State GOP leaders plan to vote Saturday on whether to take a first step away from the summer primaries that elect the party’s nominee and toward allowing a convention of party insiders to choose the candidate for statewide and national office. Consider it an audition for a more sweeping electoral change.
Not surprisingly, some elected Republican leaders and assorted power brokers are wary of an overhaul they fear could disenfranchise the roughly 700,000 people who vote in party primaries and cede power to a smaller group of activists.
But supporters say the change is needed to offset what the resolution calls the “power of Big Money and Big Media” and give more say to the activists who feel they’ve been ignored during the GOP’s ascendancy.

The resolution being voted on Saturday doesn't actually make the change, but rather calls for a closer examination of it. Switching the nomination process would require a change to state law.

Only a select few states employ this method. In Utah, primaries are only held if no candidate reaches 60 percent of the vote at the state party convention. In Virginia, the state party decides each year whether to nominate its candidates via primaries or convention.

The reason it matters: Conventions are often dominated by conservative party activists and tend to favor more conservative candidates.

The Virginia GOP's decision to nominate its 2013 candidate for governor via convention, for example, made state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli the presumptive nominee and basically thwarted any chance that more moderate Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling might have had to be the GOP nominee. Bolling wound up not running.

The state GOP convention also recently nominated the controversial minister E.W. Jackson for lieutenant governor — despite Jackson having received just 5 percent of the vote in a 2012 Senate primary.

In Utah, party activists unseated Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah) at its 2010 convention because he was insufficiently conservative. He actually finished third at convention and didn't even qualify for the primary.

It's not clear when the change would be ready in Georgia, if the party makes it. All eyes are on the state's 2014 GOP Senate primary, which includes a couple very conservative candidates who national party leaders worry would jeopardize their chances in the general election.

While the GOP is favored in that race, Georgia isn't as red as many people think it is, and signs are pointing toward it becoming a swing state in the years to come.

If it does, and if the party moves to nominate candidates by convention rather than primary, that change could wind up having a significant impact on future elections.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix, the Post’s top political blog.
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