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Should Your Party Change to Win Elections?

State political parties do not always have to match their affiliated federal party’s platform. For example, the Hawaiian Republican Party, up against a consistently Democratic state since Hawaii’s statehood in 1959, decided to become go centrist in 2000.


2002 was its most successful year, with 15 state representatives and 5 state senators, plus the governor and lieutenant governor positions filled by Republicans!


Recently, the party has once again fallen out of favor with the Hawaiian people. Nonetheless, the Hawaii Republican Party is still competing and has some key politicians, including royal family member Quentin Kawānanakoa and current Hawaii City Council member Andria Tupola.


The most popular Hawaiian Republicans in recent memory have held, contra many federal Republicans, relatively pro-choice and pro-environment stances. These include Linda Lingle, governor from 2002-2010; Duke Aiona, former lieutenant governor from 2002-2010, who was a successful judge and came up with a second chance program to keep drug offenders out of prison; and Charles Djou, former US Representative and current Secretary of the American Battle Monuments Commissionpro-Biden and anti-Trump.


All of these popular Republicans in Hawaii have one thing in common: they are moderate.


Moderation seems to be working for them. Should other minority, state parties follow suit? 


Maybe not.


In Hawaii today, the centrist move has left Republican Party more divided, and many former Republicans have jumped ship to the Democratic Party in an attempt to win elections and gain more influence in government. Hawaii State Senator, Mike Gabbard, is a good example.


Put simply, many Republicans in Hawaii voted Republican because they liked Republicans, not centrists. Now, many moderate politicians have decided to go Democrat, depriving official Republicans of much of their influence in the state.


Therein lies an alternative strategy: having minority candidates change to the majority party in places with heavy majorities.


In the 2022 Los Angeles mayoral elections, Democratic candidate Rick Caruso was seen as only a Democrat in name by most people. In fact, Rick Caruso was a classic conservative Southern Californian who attended USC, became a massive real-estate developer and was a Republican until 2019, and then an Independent until 2022 when he finally became a Democrat.


He went on to challenge 45% of the vote and win the public support of many celebrities: Snoop Dogg, George Lopez, Chris Pratt, Kim Kardashian, Wolfgang Puck, Elon Musk and Cenk Uygur. 


Even though he lost by near double-digit percentages, he showed that centrist politicians can theoretically win in heavily Democratic cities.


Due to the very left-wing policies of many Californian DAs and representatives at all levels, with rising crime, a rising homeless population and massive water and fire regulation issues, many Californians have been searching for a more moderate choice, which a Hawaii style Republican Party could provide.


However, such a party would require many official policy changes or, rather, many policies left undiscussed by Republicans. There is a reason Rick Caruso could not run as a Republican, and that is because the party label is still toxic to many Californians.

What should minority parties do in these situations? Should they try the Hawaiian way of the early 2000s, or the Los Angeles way of 2022?


The evidence suggests that the most successful way is to run a candidate who switches political parties. When people vote in virtually single-party states, they look to the party first.


This is not to say that political parties should not try to become more moderate: that can help. But it does not change the fact that their politicians play for the wrong team. Further, moderating your party often leads to divide, creating fewer chances for your party to have representation.


While moderating your political party may entice your candidates to independent voters and moderate citizens, running your candidate as part of the other party still makes more sense when you are in jurisdictions with large one-party majorities, like Los Angeles or Hawaii.


The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author.

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