TAMPA, Fla. — The Republicans’ often competing power centers have joined forces in opposition to a plan gaining momentum in the states to effectively junk the Electoral College in favor of a direct national popular vote for president.
California recently became the 11th and largest state to adopt the plan, under which states in the compact pledge to give all their electoral votes to the candidate who wins the national popular vote — regardless of how residents in their state voted. If a group of states with an accumulated tally of 270 electoral votes — the bare majority — sign on, the practical effect would be that the popular-vote winner instantly becomes the Electoral College winner as well.
Critics warn that a national popular vote would be a backdoor way of amending the Constitution, while shifting the center of gravity in presidential election from the Founding Fathers’ vision of an urban-rural, large-small states balance to one with a much more urban — and likely liberal tilt. Union members, welfare recipients and others dependent on government tend to vote Democratic and are mainly in city centers.
But Republican National Committee member Saul Anuzis of Michigan, the former state GOP chairman and one of the most prominent proponents of the national popular vote in the party, calls this big-city argument bogus, arguing that “if that was true, very few Republican governors in any major state would be elected.”
Mr. Anuzis said that the “Founding Fathers worried about a few states dominating the process, but today the swing states do that, while at least 35 states are ‘fly-over states,’ with no presidential visits or campaigning in the general election.”
The Constitution now gives each state votes in the Electoral College equal to the number of U.S. senators and representatives from the state. The District of Columbia can cast three votes. Nearly all of the states now give all their electoral votes to the candidate who wins the popular vote in that state, no matter how small the margin.
Both sides of the debate within the GOP will be aired Wednesday when the Republican National Committee convenes its summer meeting in Tampa, Fla., where two separate, potentially vitriolic debates are on the agenda. A vote by the RNC on a resolution sponsored by Alaska RNC member Debbie Joslin will follow the debates.
Leading party officials, including Republican Governors Association Chairman Rick Perry of Texas, House Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky have sent a joint letter supporting Mrs. Joslin’s resolution to put the RNC on record against the national popular vote campaign.
In their letter, Mr. Perry, Mr. Boehner and Mr. McConnell warned that the “states that sign onto this plan could withdraw from it ahead of any election in which their favored candidate is expected to lose the national vote, destabilizing elections even further.”
They also argue that close national elections could produce contentious recounts such the Florida fight in 2000 — in every state.
“This would result in endless litigation, making it highly unlikely that a president would be able to assume office on Jan. 20,” they wrote.
Some have criticized the method that advocates for a national popular vote are using. The less-formal state compact idea sidesteps the arduous process of proposing and ratifying a constitutional amendment, which require the active consent of three-fourths of the states. Advocates are relying on another provision of the Constitution, which gives states the right to determine the procedure by which their votes in the Electoral College are allotted.
Aside from Mr. Anuzis, the popular-vote plan does have the backing of at least two well-known Republicans: former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee and former Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar.
For Mr. Thompson, however, switching to a popular vote is supported by simple logic.
“We simply can no longer afford to run the risk of having a president who is handicapped by not having won the most popular votes,” Mr. Thompson says on the website nationalpopularvote.com.