In a move that could have implications for the looming Republican Congressional primary between Brendan Doherty and John J. Loughlin II, the Rhode Island Republican State Central Committee is set to vote, in October, on a controversial proposal to close GOP primaries to all but registered Republican voters.
At present, the state's Democratic and Republican parties both allow independents to vote in their primaries.
The conservative wing of the state GOP has been pushing for a closed primary for several years, arguing that it favors the nomination of true conservatives and prevents meddling by Democrats.
The issue flared up last year amid speculation that Steve Laffey, a conservative firebrand and one-time mayor of Cranston, might run for the gubernatorial nomination and that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Frank Caprio might switch parties.
Conservative activists accused then-party chairman Giovanni Cicione of blocking a vote on the proposal to keep the door open for Caprio, who would have benefited from the votes of independents in a GOP primary. Cicione denied the charge. And he says he is pleased, now, that the vote will come in an off-year - giving 2012 candidates time to adjust their campaigns accordingly.
Ken McKay, the new party chairman, says he is personally opposed to a closed primary. But he says there should be a vote: "it's a democracy, it's about participation." A vote of two-thirds of the committee - composed of roughly 240 city and town chairmen, local delegates, chairman's appointees, and elected officials - is required for passage.
There is considerable debate, within the party, about whether the move would favor Loughlin, a former state representative, in his presumed primary battle with Colonel Doherty, the former superintendent of the state police.
Loughlin's supporters, in an appeal to the commited partisans who would play a larger role in a closed primary, have suggested that Doherty is something less than a true Republican because he has voted in Democratic primaries in the past. Doherty's supporters dismiss the voting record concern in a state of frequent crossovers. They say the colonel is a strong conservative and argue that the impact of a closed primary would be minimal.