Explain the main points of the Primaries to me...

From the outside looking in I see the following happening, in various degrees:[ul]
[li]Democrats spending more time attacking each other than forwarding their own policy ideas.[/li][li]Democrats ‘wasting’ millions campaigning against each other when the money could be best pooled* for use in the main election campaign against the GOP.[/li][li]Democrats actually digging out dirt on each other to undermine opponents chances and give the GOP further ammunition against the candidates.[/li][/ul]Other than historic convention, is this a strictly necessary procedure?

Would it not play better if the decision of who would lead the Democrats to the next election be made in-house** (perhaps even a separate in-party referendum), to eliminate the extent of public bickering? (and save time and money). Should it not be a over-riding directive of the party to have someone elected to represent their interests, rather than having several candidates taking bits out of each other in the attempt to be “the one” and be given the nod to challenge for the hot-seat?

  • Can campaign contributions be pooled, if they decide they want to?
    ** If this is really stupid, please educate me as to why. Thanks.

Thanks for any information / discussion.

How do you suggest that a final candidate be selected? Smoke-filled rooms? Backstage wheeling and dealing and the candidate presented to the party faithful at the Convention, a fait accompli? Genetically-engineered perfect political candidates, kept on ice in the DemPart Labs Cryogenics Division?

As messy as it is, it’s part of the democratic (not Democratic) process. And it’s not only the Democrats. On years in which a Republican is not the incumbent, the Elephantine Party gets to have all that fun, too. Remember Buchanan blasting Bush pere in 1988? Remember McCain making Bush fils sweat in 2000?

I was, perhaps, suggesting a system where registered party members voted for the candidate(s) from a forwarded shortlist of entries - anyone could put themselves forward as a potential candidate if they can garner a certain level of internal backing. That way the party selects a leader in (semi-)private (and without all the public bickering and point-scoring) and then all members of the party can stand behind the most popular candidate, once selected.

But that just punts the question back to who puts together the short list. Part of the problem, Aro, is the sheer scale of the US and how technically, there is NO single national electoral system. Oh, there are federal statutes on some basic equal-protection standards (no poll tax, minimum age 18, districts of equal population, general election the tuesday after the 1st monday in november, etc.) but the actual managing and running of elections is done by 56 distinct entities with their own procedures (yes, 56: for primaries the unincorporated territories may elect delegates, even if they don’t vote in the final election).

Thing is, this is not so “historic” . . . Primaries only really came of age with the rise of JFK in the 1960 election, before that the usual procedure involved the inner circle in each state party evaluating the potential candidates and being lobbied with minimal media expenditure or public vitriol; but the system became corrupt and discredited so the decision was made to give the choice of selecting the Nominating Convention delegates directly (that’s right: both at the primary and general election, you DON’T vote directly for the presidential candidate, you vote for a group of people who will then vote for him). In the beginning, the primary-selected delegates still had flexibility to make real decisions at the National Convention but eventually both parties adopted the system of “committed” delegates (who must give their vote to their man on the first ballot), lest they be accused of betraying the voter. Then in the 1970s it became obvious that the winner of early primaries, even in unrepresentative states like New Hampshire, would gain such an advantage that everybody front-loaded their primaries, leading to the current long, expensive campaign.

But without all the public bickering and point-scoring, how do you know what the candidates stand for? And what is “internal backing”, anyway? I just don’t see how a process with as many participants as the selection of a presidential candidate can possibly be done in (semi-)private without tossing the whole democratic thing out the window. We’re not talking about a town council race (or the look-how-19th-century-and-sincere-we-are sham of the NH primary) here where the candidates can have coffee with all the voters individually and discuss their points over the dinner table.

Actually, that’s sort of what happens already–only registered Dems (or whatever) get to vote on Primary Day anyway. I’ve worked a couple of primaries and, if there’s a contest in your district (since not all candidates choose to run in every state and city) you ask for the ballot of whatever party you’re in or, in NYC, we set the machine to present the right ballot with a lever with paper labels on it. True!

However, different states are flexible about this process–some states will even let a registered Repub or, as is more common in my part of the country an Independent, meaning not enrolled in any party at all, although confusingly there’s a few small parties with Independent in their names, walk into the polling place, fill out a form to register as a Dem, vote, and then un-register as they walk out.

jayjay’s response should tell you something else, too–the American people will no longer put up with the smoke-filled rooms, and wheeling and dealing in the shadows, and the subsequent lack of new blood, never mind minorities and women, each party would present to the public in the past. Of course some of us get embarrassed at the public airing of every little part of the process, because sausages and the law…

See if you can find any books by the great if snarky early 20th-century American writer H.L. Mencken: In his capacity as reporter he covered conventions from 1896-1948 and his observations are are diamond-sharp and, while we now have air-conditioned summers and black presidential candidates and many more states holding primaries, much has remained the same. He once wrote “most political convention speakers seem plainly on furlough from some home for extinct volcanoes.” He also goes into how things were done in those smoke-filled rooms. Very valuable.