As 2010 approaches, we’re seeing of a new kind of Republican candidate emerge—one that is less partisan than his or her predecessors, more concerned with the kitchen table than the social issues that have long defined the GOP. They are self-funding, successful businessmen and women, driven to run for office by the government encroachment on free-market enterprises and its failure to deal with the economic downturn effectively. Republicans have recruited from the business world for years, but these new candidates are different. Unlike previous recruits, most have no previous political involvement besides perhaps a donation or two. They tend to be less ideological than traditional Republican candidates–passionate about solutions to their likely constituents’ problems whether they’re labeled conservative, moderate or even liberal. This makes the free-market candidate easy to “sell” to an electorate fatigued with the status quo, the Republican Party or an incumbent burdened with policy-related gaffes. A recent Pew survey indicates that the number of Americans identifying themselves as Republican is on the decline as tens-of-thousands now consider themselves Independents. That doesn’t necessarily change what these voters find important, but it does mean a non-traditional Republican candidate can attract enough Republican defectors to create a winning coalition. This makes free-market candidates a great fit; they focus on issues these new Independents care about—the economy, jobs, health care and other fiscal issues. 2010 will test just how successful free-market candidates can be. Their ability to self-fund in a down economy gives them the edge over both primary and general opponents. Their lack of interest in social issues makes them relevant in the current policy debate, and that could change the look of the Republican Party for years to come—even if they don’t win. They won’t make the Republican Party more moderate; they’re simply connecting with the voters about the issues on which they’re currently focused. Republican defectors left the party primarily because GOP candidates have failed to prove that, in addition to being the pro-life, pro-gun and pro-traditional marriage party, Republicans are also the party of fiscal restraint, free enterprise and individual initiative. Former Republican voters are looking for something more. The free-market candidate may be exactly that. Tyler Harber is vice president and director of the political division for Wilson Research Strategies, a public opinion research and political consulting firm for Republicans. You can follow Harber at www.w-r-s.com or on Twitter @tharber.