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You don't need to win primaries for them to work

Ruth Marcus's column arguing that Arizona's "Clean Elections" law gave rise to the state's immigration law by making it easier for populist candidates to fund themselves and for the extremist wing of the Republican Party to primary and wipe out the moderates is interesting. The only addition I'd make is that campaign-finance reform doesn't seem to be a particularly important part of this mix. If you look at House or Senate Republicans, you're seeing primary challenges mounted in the absence of Arizona's law that are nevertheless proving extremely effective at turning sensible conservatives into people who'll do whatever the base demands.

Watching Chuck Grassley adopt the death panel nonsense because he was facing a conservative primary challenge was very instructive. Primaries don't need to succeed to work. If you get sensible legislators to act like hardliners, than that's pretty much as good as electing hardliners. And this will only get worse if conservative stalwarts like Sen. Bob Bennett lose in 2010, as the remaining Republicans will feel much less confident in their ability to weather even an unlikely primary challenge. Campaign-finance reform might help you win primaries, but you actually don't need to win that many of them to get everyone else to realize that they can lose a primary challenge, and thus better act accordingly.

By Ezra Klein  |  May 5, 2010; 11:29 AM ET
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You can also see this happening on the left with Specter.

The problem of course is that this behavior only last as long as the election. I have no doubt that Specter will go back to being a moderate when he no longer has to worry about Sestak.

Posted by: lol-lol | May 5, 2010 11:55 AM | Report abuse


not just Specter but also Halter and Lincoln.

Posted by: visionbrkr | May 5, 2010 12:33 PM | Report abuse

When Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) first ran for Congress 10 years ago, he promised to represent the district in the spirit of the moderate Republican who was retiring.

After winning the election, he promptly reverted to his more right-leaning ways.

I'm not judging his ideology, just pointing out that elected representatives have to get elected to survive. Some years they zig to do it, in other years they will zag.

Personally, I think you're giving the hardliners too much credit. I realize it's very fashionable to write about them now, but I wouldn't get too wedded to them. People don't want to be governed by an angry crowd from either end of the political spectrum. Remember how fast Newt's political career flamed out?

Posted by: MsJS | May 5, 2010 12:40 PM | Report abuse

Check out the hypocrisy:

Posted by: teabagger1 | May 5, 2010 12:49 PM | Report abuse

Would open primaries bring things to the center, or just invite a backlash leading to more hard-line candidates?

Posted by: jduptonma | May 5, 2010 12:59 PM | Report abuse

Clean elections may allow more populist candidates to pass such laws as Arizona's Immigration Law, but don't forget, these laws are a reflection of the state's electorate. If the electorate doesn't get what a majority wants, then democracy fails, as it does so with or without Clean Elections. Rasmussen poll, 67% of Arizonians favor the Immigration Law. If thats not a public endorsement, I don't know what one is.

Posted by: photek00 | May 5, 2010 1:28 PM | Report abuse

photek00: "Rasmussen poll, 67% of Arizonians favor the Immigration Law. If thats not a public endorsement, I don't know what one is."

You want to know what one is? A similar number obtained by a real pollster, not a Republican mouthpiece.

Posted by: dal20402 | May 5, 2010 2:54 PM | Report abuse


you're right. Rasmussen can be biased.

How about the New York Times?


Posted by: visionbrkr | May 5, 2010 4:18 PM | Report abuse

"...turning sensible conservatives into people who'll do whatever the base demands."

If we aren't careful we might end up with politicians who actually do what the electorate wants!

Posted by: MrDo64 | May 5, 2010 4:19 PM | Report abuse

Primaries are constrained by the general election. As moderates get knocked off in the primary, so too do radicals get knocked off in the general.

All this conservative discipline is liable to limit the extent of their gains, despite the potential of this favorable election cycle.

Posted by: zosima | May 6, 2010 1:59 AM | Report abuse

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