Conventional Un-Wisdom: Primaries Suck.
As the American media focuses on the circus that is the Republican Presidential Primary, people all over the spectrum are commenting. Near all of the people commenting from the center to the left want the primary to go all the way to the end, bloodying the eventual nominee as much as possible. Many on the right are calling for an end to the process for the same reason. Some on the right can remember way back in history, in a galaxy far far away, way back in the late…4 years ago. They remember that Obama v Clinton all the way to the end of the primary calendar generated additional data, money, excitement, volunteers, a huge chunk of energy. They remember that the Republican primary contest in 2008 had the same potential, but was resolved quickly producing a flat general election campaign. In the end, Obama had nearly 270 electoral votes locked up by the time he addressed the crowd at the DNC. The contest was all but over, and he was just moments out of one of the most brutally contested primaries in history. The “3AM” Clinton ad that was supposed to be a devastating attack on Obama? Well, he didn’t win West Virginia, but he was never going to win West Virginia. He cleared 270 by a huge margin. Republican strategists remember this, and I suspect some are wondering if President Obama can repeat the feat without the intra-party foreplay and associated energy for change. They remember and hope that an extended primary will do the same for them it did for Democrats in 2008.
Primaries aren’t bad. Challenger campaigns can and should benefit from competitive primaries.
The un-wisdom is that primaries burn resources (money) needed for the general election, that it is a zero-sum situation and only xyz dollars can possibly be raised by pdq candidate. The un-wisdom asserts that the competition of a primary will expose the flaws/weaknesses of the eventual nominee diminishing their chance to win the general significantly.
All of this is of course stupid. I’d be more delicate, but that wouldn’t penetrate the level of stubbornness within which this particular un-wisdom is sealed. Bad primaries are bad, of course they are. When two (or more) candidates forget what their message is, lose all sense of discipline, and generally demonstrate how much they suck as candidate and campaigns, it certainly does make it likely they will lose the general election. But not MORE likely, they were already likely to get waxed, they just got exposed themselves a few months earlier than they would have otherwise. Even in this scenario, the primary is positive, because it provides the nominee the chance to evaluate where things got so off track and implement corrections before the general election campaign is at full throttle.
In a good primary, two (or more) competing candidates get to articulate their values, present their vision of how the district/state/nation would be better if they were to be elected, they get to promote the party’s values for however long the primary lasts. The process of the primary campaign will generate energy, enthusiasm and DATA. Data about donors, volunteers, the concerns of the district, all sorts of information that can help win the general election.
The money? It isn’t Zero Sum. Howard Dean proved that with his 50-state strategy and the overwhelming success it provided. Success that laid the groundwork for Obama’s 2008 victory. Done well, the primary will dramatically increase the fundraising capacity of both candidates during the primary period, and in the aftermath they will have broader reach to bring in as much or more for the general election than they would have without a primary. More good candidates and good campaigns means more money, not less.
Candidates that benefited from competitive primaries in the process of ascending to high offices? We already discussed Barack Obama, who had a competitive primary for President, most don’t know that he broke in to the Federal Campaign scene with a failed primary challenge in 2000 of US House Member Bobby Rush, and then faced a multi-candidate primary for US Senate in 2004. Today he is the 44th President of the United States, those primaries really hindered his success. Other candidates to have benefited from primaries include Florida US Senator Bill Nelson and Governor Lawton Chiles (against each other for Governor), California Governor Jerry Brown, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, Senator John McCain, Senator John Tester, Senator Mark Warner (won primary, lost general for US Senate in 96, won Governor of VA in 2001)…and Governor Rick Scott who stole a billion dollars from medicare and was trashed by his eventual running mate during the primary. This is just a small sample.
I would encourage the Democratic Party to embrace primaries, not play favorites in the process and instead do everything they can to make sure ALL candidates running under the Democratic banner and supporting the (bulk of the) Democratic Platform run the highest quality campaign possible. Doing so would improve the strength of the Democratic brand, grow fund raising, improve candidate recruitment and of course, elect more and better Democrats. Personally, I only help the liberal/progressive candidates. If you aren’t for equality, election reform and women’s rights, call someone else.
As for that Republican Presidential Primary? Let’s end it right now, let’s give Mitt Romney the nomination and start the general election festivities right now. Since we can’t do that, how about the Democrats stay out of it and focus our attention and energy on recruiting more and better Democrats to run sea to shining sea and then do everything we can to provide them with the resources and training they need to succeed. I’m looking at you DNC, AFSCME, etc, spend that money recruiting, promoting and supporting candidates that support your values instead of trashing a potential Republican nominee 8 months before persuadable general election voters are paying attention.
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