One of things I don’t get is why so many Democrats are worried about the primary continuing to the Democratic convention. This is the best thing that could happen to the Democrats.
First of all, don’t underestimate how important it is to rank-and-file Democrats that they can actually cast a vote that might actually mean something. But more importantly, it’s actually stalled the Republican Slimedozer. Why? Because there’s no oxygen left in the room for Republicans. Various people keep pointing out the Republican attack strategies that keep getting trotted out–and they’re not sticking. It’s almost June, and to paraphrase John Paul Jones, the Republicans have not yet begun to successfully slime (although I think they’re banking on closet racism).
Yet there’s another factor too. Imagine you offer someone three options: a vacation package to Paris that includes airfare, a vacation package to Rome that includes airfare, and a vacation package to Rome that does not include airfare. Compared to the situation where people are presented the two airfare-included options, more people will choose the Rome package (with airfare). The comparison between the two Rome package predisposes people towards picking the Rome package. I think something similar is happening here: as long as people are deciding which Democrat is better, that’s a win for ‘Brand Democrat.’
Finally, Matt Stoller makes a very good point about the mistaken conventional (no pun intended) wisdom that contested primaries are bad:
In every state with both a well-contested Senate campaign and a late presidential primary, the wave of Democratic energy that the Clinton vs. Obama titanic struggle brought to the area gave the Democratic Senate candidate a huge, double-digit boost. Contested primaries at all levels thus served as tremendous party-building activities, as hundreds of thousands of new Democrats were created in every single state listed above. The net result of the creation of hundreds of thousands of new Democrats in each of these states are five more states where Democrats have a good chance of picking up a Senate seat.
Primary campaigns of all types should be understood as useful, party building and candidate testing activities, rather than as a waste of limited resources. Consider that in Minnesota, a state that held a Super Tuesday caucus instead of a late primary, and where Al Franken’s main opponent for the nomination, Mike Ciresi, dropped out more than two months ago, Franken has actually been dropping in the polls. Without the benefits of either a contested Senate primary or the energy of a late presidential nomination contest, Democrats are struggling, relatively speaking, in Senate campaign like Maine and Minnesota, both states that were thought to be top-tier targets in 2007.
Contested primaries build the party. As the primary season draws to a close, one of my only laments is that Maine, Minnesota, Colorado and Alaska held early February caucuses, rather than primaries sometime in the spring. If Clinton and Obama had duked it out in those states as intensely as they did in the post-Wisconsin primary states, right now we would probably have ten senate pickups in the bag, rather than only six.
Don’t worry about democracy in action: it always looks ugly.