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.
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