When the Republican Party of Kentucky decided to hold a presidential caucus, a motivating factor was the hope that the excitement of the event would increase the party’s voter registration numbers and voter participation.
That hope hasn’t panned out, at least not on a large scale.
According to the latest state registration figures, Republicans picked up about 9,000 new voters over the past two months.
Democrats lost about 3,400 voters.
Compared to the last presidential election in 2012, Democrats’s share of registered voters dropped from 54.8 to 52.4 percent.
Republicans increased their share of registered voters in that same time period from 37.9 percent to 39.5 percent.
Today is the deadline for Kentuckians to register with a party and be able to cast a ballot for the 2016 presidential nominations.
State Republican leaders approved the switch from the traditional May presidential primary to a caucus at the request of U.S. Sen. Rand Paul. State law prohibits candidates from appearing twice on the ballot. Paul was seeking a way to run for the White House and the U.S. Senate simultaneously.
Only registered Republicans can vote in the March 5 caucus.
Because of that exclusivity, GOP leaders were hoping independent voters — and even Democrats who have been voting for Republicans — would be inspired to register with the Republican Party.
Mike Biagi, the executive director of the Republican Party of Kentucky, said recently he saw the presidential caucus is an opportunity to grow the party’s roster.
“We have been encouraging Democrats and independents and any non-voters who want to register to vote to join our party, especially given that many of them might agree with our principles and our party and just have them register to vote as a Republican,” he said.
A massive registration shift hasn’t happened, though.
Scott Jennings, a Louisville-based Republican political operative and founder of the public relations firm RunSwitch PR, said overall the registration has been shifting for Republicans in recent years.
He said since President Obama was elected in 2008, “Democrats have added just 22,961 new people to their rolls.”
“In that same period, Republicans have added 205,671, a ten-fold advantage,” Jennings said.
Election results year-by-year have also shown Republicans have been dominating in the state, even if registration numbers still don’t show an edge. Just this year, a Republican became governor for just the second time in four decades, and also took the state auditor and treasurer posts from Democrats.
Even though Republicans were hoping to see a surge in registrants ahead of the caucus, Jennings said that was unlikely to happen anyway.
“There hasn’t been a lot of advertising about the caucus,” he said. “In fact, to my knowledge, there’s been no any paid advertising about the caucus. So, my presumption is a great many people other than your absolute political insiders know about it.”
Biagi said earlier this month the party was leaving it to the candidates to do advertising for the caucus.
But candidates were never likely to spend ad money on getting people to register with the party, Jennings said.
“For the purpose of advertising the caucus by Dec.r 31, it would not have been a good strategy for anyone to do paid media here to change voter registration numbers,” he said. “What you will see is most campaigns focus on voter identification efforts.”
Jennings said voters will likely start learning more in the next few months as the caucus gets closer, but it will be too late for people to register. He said candidates will probably target likely voters and their particular bases in the next few months.
Another reason it wasn’t “prudent” for candidates to focus on advertising ahead of the registration deadline, Jennings said, is because a lot is going to happen in the presidential election before the state’s March 5 caucus.
A dozen candidates are seeking the Republican presidential nomination, and the race is considered very much a toss-up.
“There are obviously four big states [voting] in February and a whole bunch of states on March 1st,” Jennings said. “So, when you are making advertising decisions you have to take into account the chronological order of the states on the calendar.”
As of Tuesday, nine candidates have filed to run in Kentucky’s presidential caucus: Gov. Jeb Bush, Dr. Ben Carson, Gov. Chris Christie, Sen. Ted Cruz, Gov. John Kasich, Sen. Rand Paul, Sen. Marco Rubio, Carly Fiorina and businessman Donald Trump.
The deadline for candidates to file is January 7.