Primaries are often goofy. I’ll admit that from the outset. Low turnout (and this year really low turnout due to the heat), wacky spreads of people voting, and so on. They’re certainly important for local candidates like delegates, and it’s sad that most voters don’t play more of a role in picking their leaders (especially since local officials often have far more say in the things that actually affect people’s lives directly). I get that.
Even so, at least for political junkies like me who hear the reality of party campaigning that the media hasn’t a clue about, this year saw some real head-slapping dumbassery from both parties, ironically for diametrically different reasons:
Republicans. Good grief. Why even HOLD a primary for your statewide offices? What a glorious waste of everyone’s time and money. For those that aren’t familiar with Virginia, there were three major offices at stake: Governor, Lt. Governor, and Att. General. Now, the Governor’s race I can sort of understand: Kilgore was the party’s pre-primed candidate just like the unopposed Kaine was for the Democrats, and Fitch’s candidacy was a somewhat unexpected protest against that (and he actually ended up doing surprisingly well for someone with almost no money staff, and the entire party ignoring him completely). But the AG and LT. Gov races were at least presented as sincere races: the party coming out to let Virginian Republicans decide who they wanted to field against the Democrats. And they weren’t. The winning ticket was already quietly pre-chosen by the state party and federal party. I won’t go into the boring details of GOTV and party politics, but let’s just say that the state party made sure of the outcome, using the money, manpower, effort, and just plain lockdown politics that make candidates in a partisan primary undefeatable. Which raises the question: why waste everyone’s time? Not being a Republican and not caring who won I can’t really do anything other than scratch my head. All that money (which could have ended up in the general) spent fighting over what was already a done deal. I’m not complaining about Republicans wanting the best ticket: that’s part of why they are so successful: they keep all their guys on a very very tight leash, rigidly manage and coordinate message. It’s very smart politics. But why have the farce of an open primary in the first place if the supposed impartial outsiders are just going to throw the race one way or the other anyway?
Democrats: they aren’t quite as intentionally bad, and yet that’s exactly why they are still bad for the exact opposite reason. Instead of some party discipline and some good sense about how to win elections, they bring us a confusing four way race for Lt. Governor. Good grief. And what happens? The “oh no, let’s not nominate the absolute worst candidate for the general!” vote gets split three ways. At least the woman who had the bright idea to publically criticize their own future running mate didn’t win. It may be heavyhanded and undemocratic, but the Republicans at least have the good sense as a party to enforce some discipline and play heavy favorites when they know it’s important. The Democrats seem to emphasize impartiality to the point where their brains fall out. Kilgore picked his ticket, had the national and state Republicans sign off on it and made it happen. Kaine’s people apparently thought that would be uncivil, and the Democratic party statewide and federally would have none of it. And the result is a running mate wildly out of step with the rest of the ticket. It could help or hurt Kaine and other Dems depending on how it is played, but for anyone that cares about winning the LG seat (and especially keeping it from going to a freakshow like Bolling) an annoying Deaniac liberal is not really the smart money.
In short, for both parties, the exercise seems like a giant waste of time. The Republicans may have well skipped the entire exercise, and the Democrats may have well flipped a four sided coin.