Print Columns   |   Web Chats   |   Blog Archives   |  

Pretend Primary: What The Candidates Won't Address

In the run-up to next week's Pretend Primary here on the big blog, we've looked at some of the issues that the presidential candidates might have been pushed into talking about if they had ever had to campaign in the Washington region:

We jumped into tough issues such as illegal immigration, income inequality, sprawl, development and the time crunch that so many families face, and the generational divide that has contributed so mightily to political polarization.

Readers suggested several other issues that the candidates who are spending most of their time in Iowa and New Hampshire might have had to confront if Virginia, Maryland or the District had primaries at the beginning of the 2008 election calendar rather than at the tail end of the primaries:

---With both Dominion Power in central Virginia and Constellation Energy in southern Maryland moving ahead to expand nuclear energy generation for the first time in several decades, the question of where nuclear fits in the new menu of energy sources for the nation should be front and center, but do you hear any candidates seriously addressing alternative energy ideas or the funding necessary to get them moving forward?

---D.C. voting rights seems as dead an issue as it has been anytime in the past three decades now that Congress has killed the effort by Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) to add politically balanced House seats for the District and Utah, but shouldn't we at least know where presidential candidates stand on such a basic matter of civil rights?

---With housing prices moderating or sliding in much of the country, we have the blessing and the curse of a market in the District and its close-in suburbs in which prices continue to rise. That's not the standard picture across the nation, so it's hardly likely that any presidential candidate would be asked to address the many social and economic problems that stem from having a metro area in which many, if not most, people are priced out of the kind of housing they want. Since housing and development are issues on which the federal government is deeply involved, shouldn't we hear from candidates about strategies on affordable housing, transportation and the energy and education issues that branch out from decisions about how and where we live?

---Crumbling infrastructure is turning into more of a national issue, thanks to disasters in Minnesota, California and elsewhere, but it's the nation's big metro areas that feel this problem more keenly than the kinds of places where presidential candidates tend to hang out.

---Although more than eight in ten Americans live in or near big cities, the primary calendar is dominated upfront by rural states where urban issues are largely ignored or irrelevant. A sudden and growing reversal in the long trend toward lower crime levels has the nation's mayors in a state of considerable worry, especially since the presidential candidates seem vastly more concerned by crime overseas--terrorism--than by crime in our own country.

--- With only about 55 percent of black and Hispanic teens being graduated from high school on time, the federal government's obsession with test-taking as the cure-all to our education ills can only be deemed a failure. But where are the alternative approaches? Is there a single presidential candidate making education a primary piece of his agenda? Yet is there a single issue more important to the country's future ability to compete globally?

There are obviously more and more crucial issues being ignored this cycle than any candidate could reasonably focus on in the dumbed-down kinds of campaigns that are today's style. But the rural skew of the early primary calendar steers national attention away from the kinds of issues that are most important to places such as the Washington region. One way to fix that would be for states with major urban centers to shoulder their way into the front of the lineup in the next presidential election. The political parties will fight any change, as they did last weekend when the Democrats took punitive action against Michigan's effort to make its votes count.

But voting first counts for a lot--arguably, for everything--in our crazy primary process, and it's time Virginia, Maryland and the District pushed their way into a place that matters.

Next week in this space, we'll take a stab at sending a message to the candidates, as we vote on which Democrats and Republicans would be most suitable as presidential candidates representing the interests of the Washington area. Please join us--and please come ahead today with more thoughts on what the candidates are leaving out of their campaigns this year.

By Marc Fisher |  December 6, 2007; 7:23 AM ET
Previous: Losing The Right to Fight A Ticket | Next: State vs. Church: March of the Preservation Police


Please email us to report offensive comments.

If "many, if not most people are priced out" of the housing market, how is it that prices keep rising? Is there some shrinking pool of rich people who are all buying more and more houses?

Infrastructure and education are state issues. If segments of the population choose to segregate and marginalize themselves, why is this a Federal problem

Posted by: Stick | December 6, 2007 8:39 AM

New homebuyers are priced out because we have nothing from which to trade up, whereas existing homeowners already have the existing and rising equity in their current homes as a starting point. If you don't want to live in Fredericksburg or a ghetto, it's either $300k or nothing. Many young Washingtonians will never be able to afford living where they grew up.

Posted by: Eric | December 6, 2007 9:10 AM

Your use of the passive voice in describing low minority graduation rates ("are graduated") implies that it is someone else's fault other than the individual student. Funny, when I was in high school back in the last century I was under the impression that it was my responsibility to graduate.

Posted by: Oakton, VA | December 6, 2007 9:21 AM

Why is it that I get the feeling that you think the federal government is there to solve all of societies ills. Of the things you list, nuclear energy and infrastructure AS IT PERTAINS TO FEDERALLY CONTROLLED ENTITITIES are the only things that really should have a presidental candidate weigh in on. The rest you should be asking your city council and mayor about.

(And as far as voting rights in DC, it's a congressional issue, not a presidential one.)

Posted by: Rob | December 6, 2007 10:00 AM

Good grief. The last thing we need is another state or region insisting that it is has the right to have the first say in who is President.

We are a very privileged region with a strong economy that is in part supported by the federal government. So, we are hardly representative.

This madness to rush to the front has increased the need for candidates to raise outlandish amounts of money. And, this in turn increases the influence of those who can raise money.

Posted by: pat | December 6, 2007 10:04 AM


You screwed up again. The obvious number one unaddressed issue of concern to voters in a major metropolitan area such as DC is what the federal government should do to improve our ability to withstand a major terrorist attack. The odds of such an attack striking NH or IA are very low, so the issue doesn't get much attention there. Even with G. Bush setting up a police state, we can't shut down terrorists forever. Candidates should be called on to address questions such as these: Do we have the legal framework in place to reconstitute a legitimate federal government if a terrorist attack prevented Congress from achieving a quorum (e.g., due to an attack on the Capitol building)? Do we have the legal framework in place to allow our first responders to manage a bio-warfare attack or a naturally occurring pandemic without resorting to martial law (e.g., authority to forcibly quarrantine carriers, etc.)? Have our first responders received the requisite equipment (e.g., interoperable communications equipment, protective suits, etc.) and training to respond to an attack so as to minimize the harmful effects, including panic, rioting, etc. What should the federal government do to address our well known lack of sufficient medical resources to respond to a major attack? These are the unaddressed issues of concern to DC residents.

Posted by: WaPo's Next Metro Columnist/Blogger | December 6, 2007 10:04 AM

The list of unaddressed issues is endless. Candidates' intellectual energies are 100% devoted to winning the election, 0% devoted to governing.

Since it takes a quarter-billion dollars to get elected, all candidates are obligated to demonstrate their "electability" to potential donors. That in turn creates a slavery to the pollsters, i.e., appealing to the (presumed) middle of the bell curve. The middle of the bell curve is not where you find bold thinking, galvanizing ideas or courageous, clear-eyed acknowledgment of the unpleasant aspects of governing.

As a result we get 18 months of pablum from all primary candidates, culminating in two indistinguishable opponents next November.

Until we have publicly-funded elections, this is our fate.

Posted by: Mike | December 6, 2007 10:21 AM

"that stem from having a metro area in which many, if not most, people are priced out of the kind of housing they want."

I want to live in a $25M penthouse, but so do lots of other people - that's why it's expensive. Short of creating land, there's no solution here.

Posted by: HH | December 6, 2007 10:45 AM

For Oakton:
It's a matter of grammar, not voice. You do not graduate from a school, you are graduated. The school makes the decision; you, the student, are the recipient of that honor. It may be a grammatical distinction that is losing favor, but it is a meaningful and important one.

Posted by: Fisher | December 6, 2007 3:05 PM

Hey, WaPo wannabee blogger, enough about how all we care about around here is terrorism. When people like you realize that 9/11 was ONE BAD DAY and that in a sense, we were had by an audacious bunch of killers and nothing more, we can deal with actual crime and violence, such as that which rears up daily in the streets of Washington, in Metro parking lots, and common locations. We've spent more than $1 trillion and lost more soldiers than who died on 9/11 basically to avenge the victims of one incident that's now more than seven years old. It's a lot easier to carjack someone at a gas station or shoot someone during a burglary than commit a mass atrocity. Get real!

Posted by: bigolbose | December 8, 2007 3:00 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company