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Mr. Armistead confirmed the substance of the meeting afterward. “I will use best practices that I heard from other states that have closed primaries to draft legislation for the Alabama Legislature when it goes back in session early next year,” Mr. Armistead said. “I believe after this election cycle is over, we will have much more support for closed primaries than ever before. I don’t plan to rest until we get this changed in Alabama.”

Conservative or not, almost all RNC members say the national party shouldn’t dictate to the states on most issues, except for dates of the presidential primaries and the quadrennial presidential nominating convention.

“I support the states’ right to choose open or closed primaries,” said RNC General Counsel John Ryder of Tennessee.

That’s hardly the issue in the argument, according RNC Standing Rules Committee Chairman Bruce Ash of Arizona.

“I endorse having only primaries that let only voters affiliated with a particular political party — you know, the ones with a chairman, a headquarters and people who actually run under a particular party affiliation,” Mr. Ash said.

Wooing independents

Mr. Ash is not a fan of political independents — the bloc of voters both parties fight for in virtually every election.

“How could anyone in America today be truly politically independent if they have a brain or a heart?” Mr. Ash said. “If someone cannot make up their mind which side they are pulling for today, they probably lack a brain, a heart and can’t be trusted to cast a ballot intelligently.”

Mr. Ash agrees that federalism in the form of states’ rights and the reserved powers clause of the 10th Amendment to the Constitution are sacred to the GOP. That poses a problem: If state legislatures do not register voters by party affiliation, then the Republican Party in that state appears to be helpless to run a truly closed primary.

Some closed-party advocates argue, however, that political party rules trump state rules. Others dispute that interpretation.

But a Western-state RNC member had plans to introduce a resolution in Chicago that he thinks will rid the GOP of open primaries.

“The rule change would mandate membership dues in the Republican Party and a membership card to play in the GOP sandbox,” said Curly Haugland, North Dakota Republican National Committee member.

Some of his friends on the RNC think that only makes the GOP less attractive — more like a paid-membership country club than a political party or movement.

The question of openness can get hazy, too.

Mr. Barbour said his party’s goal “has been and is to grow our party. It is also to win the support of the majority of Independents. Neither party has the support of a majority of voters on a party-membership basis, and to win in November we must have the support of lots of people who do not self-identify as Republicans.”

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