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Wag the Blog: Do Primaries Help or Hurt?

Candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton waged a long primary battle for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

Today's announcement by former Florida state House Speaker Marco Rubio that he will challenge Gov. Charlie Crist in a Republican primary for the state's open Senate seat in 2010 -- if, as expected, Crist jumps into the race -- sets up the latest in a series of terrific primaries on tap for next year.

Not only are there great intraparty squabbles already set in Senate races in Florida, Connecticut, Kansas, Missouri, Ohio and Texas but there are also a few potentially marquee contests on the horizon including in Pennsylvania where Sen. Arlen Specter (D) could face a challenge from Rep. Joe Sestak and/or former National Constitution Center head Joe Torsella while former Rep. Pat Toomey and former Gov. Tom Ridge might square off on the Republican side.

At the gubernatorial level, there are scads of great primaries ranging from the battle between Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison to the likely scrap between New York Gov. David Paterson (D) and state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.

The Fix has made clear our feelings about primaries: we love them!

But, for today's Wag the Blog question we want your opinion on whether primaries are generally a good thing or a bad thing for the two parties.

Evidence can be cited on both sides of the argument.

It's hard to question that the prolonged battle between then Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton strengthened Democrats' hands -- from a media, messaging and voter registration perspective -- for last fall's campaign.

But, it's equally difficult to argue that Sen. Ted Kennedy's (Mass.) challenge to then President Jimmy Carter in 1980 didn't significantly weaken Carter for the general election race against Ronald Reagan.

Which side of the argument do you buy into? Do primaries -- in the main -- allow the best candidate with the most compelling message to rise to the top? Or are they typically bloody and expensive contests that distract from the general elections where there are real differences between the candidates?

Offer your thoughts in the comments section below. As always, the most insightful comments will be featured later this week in their own post.

By Chris Cillizza  |  May 5, 2009; 2:06 PM ET
Categories:  Wag The Blog  
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"the answer is simple shorten the primary to three months to accomplish a sustained debate and allow for vedding. Second free up the air ways .The FCC rent the airways to the networks for nothing.Why not require the networks to free up time for the airing of all points of view. Posted by: dhsobel "

Contraryise, the BEST way to run primaries would be to let Iowa and New Hampshire have the first two dates, Iowa on the 7th of January and NH on the week day next two days after Iowa, THEN two or three primaries every Tuesday through July, in reverse order of States by population, (smallest first.) taking a break for Easter week. That way nobody could stampede the convention early, (Republican style) because even winner take all primaries wouldn't have reached half the available delegates until May.

Jake D: John McCain was the reluctant designated candidate this year, it was his reward for turning John Kerry down on his offer to form a National Unity Ticket. Yes, Huckabee took out Romney, that is how the Republican rigging works. John had the nomination in his pocket on the first of January, provided he actually lived 'til then, from mid 2004.

The Republicans haven't had a real campaign to nominate a Presidential candidate since Eisenhower, apparently. They had their man chosen before the first voter got the first voters guide in every election since Goldwater.

Posted by: ceflynline | May 6, 2009 3:50 PM | Report abuse

JakeD, you might be right -- at the least, Romney would have put up a better fight than McCain did. Too bad Romney couldn't defeat the whackos in his own party, especially the religious nuts (The Church of Latter Day Saints is "a cult", don't you know?)

When the GOP can get past such ridiculous prejudice and select quality individuals like Romney, THEN they'll have a fighting chance. As long as they keep surrendering the high ground to the loonies, they'll never get anywhere.

Posted by: WaitingForGodot | May 6, 2009 3:39 PM | Report abuse

You know that older candidates could never have stood the strain of what POTUS and HRC went through.. it was grueling.. I was glad it was over.. and I watched from the sofa.

Posted by: newbeeboy | May 6, 2009 2:52 PM | Report abuse


Just because we political junkies (adore that expression!) find the conflict--let's be honest and call it a bloodsport--of such primaries exciting doesn't mean that they are all that constructive.

I personally think that because of the ENDLESS primary period (your beard, becoming as it was, was about to strangle you by the Indiana Primary) in the Presidential election, Obama became a much better candidate and Hilary was able to shed a lot--not all--of her negative First Lady baggage.

The relative brevity of the Carter/Kennedy primary season, plus Carter's perceived weakness overall, did the then-President no favours.

All in all, objectively (and I'm sure if you view the process as such, rather than as a 'sport' fan), I think a protracted, hotly contested primary--especially if it's only on the side of one party--greatly increases the possibility that the 'other' side will triumph, whether it deserves to or not!

Posted by: sverigegrabb | May 6, 2009 1:44 PM | Report abuse

Chris, your two examples are apples and oranges. For an incumbent to get a serious primary challenge (Carter, GHW Bush) is a very bad sign. When a party does not have an incumbent a primary campaign - perhaps a long one - is to be expected.

Of course, it is not necessarily the case that the challenges to Carter and Bush actually mattered. The challenges did not not significantly weaken them: they were weak, which is why they were challenged.

Posted by: qlangley | May 6, 2009 12:18 PM | Report abuse

the answer is simple shorten the primary to three months to accomplish a sustained debate and allow for vedding. Second free up the air ways .The FCC rent the airways to the networks for nothing.Why not require the networks to free up time for the airing of all points of view.

Posted by: dhsobel | May 6, 2009 12:06 PM | Report abuse

PRIMARY---cross over voting is not good I feel you should have to vote the primaries as you did the last general that would keep the other party from voting again a canidate that may prove harder tp beat in the general

Posted by: thompsoninteriorroger | May 6, 2009 11:09 AM | Report abuse

The primaries are too long, tedious and costly.Those in office who are running neglect their primary responsibilities to the citizens who elected them and the tax payers who pay their salary.
More Independent representation is needed 3-5 parties. I wrote in a candidate as I have done for the last 3 elections as neither candidate was representative of my beliefs.
Divide the country into 4-6 sectors and hold only 4-6 primaries with an opportunity to vote for 3-5 candidates. The country today is too large and diverse to be left to only 2 choices.
Primaries should end by April 15th and voting should be a National holiday in Sept. Giving a new administration time to become familiar and have incumbent one get back to the business of America.

Posted by: Emily14 | May 6, 2009 10:08 AM | Report abuse

I like the comments.. I don't believe that smaller parties would be a bad addition.. it would be nice if there could be special financing or subsidized campaign funding for smaller party candidates/issues.

We should somehow support grass roots movements, regardless of their leanings.. it would be healthier than the current system. Upstart movements are way too disadvantaged.

Posted by: newbeeboy | May 6, 2009 9:27 AM | Report abuse

Whether primaries are good or bad for political parties is entirely beside the point. Primaries, preferably open primaries where at least independents are allowed to vote, are vital to the functioning of this quasi-democracy.

Posted by: Aprogressiveindependent | May 6, 2009 12:48 AM | Report abuse


While you are right about the importance of primaries in general, you are dead wrong about the GOP primary. McCain was SAVED because Huckabee took away too many voters from Romney. I still maintain Romney would have beat Obama.

Posted by: JakeD | May 5, 2009 10:08 PM | Report abuse

"Parties are not necessary- we could just vote straight up and down for the candidate with the best policies; you can even let top 5 in and then revote to ensure that more ideas are represented"

No, sir, Parties are essential to the American form of Government. The President must either bring with him, or go out and recruit, nearly a thousand men and women to fill the upper levels in government, and any life time appointments to positions that open during his tenure. Had Ross Perot been elected, he would then and there have had to start combing the country for qualified (or, were he to use George's criteria, totally unqualified) Department heads and under secretaries. It MIGHT have been one of the brightest cabinets ever, or simply one of the worst constituted collection of people barely on speaking terms ever assembled in the Country.

When you vote for the President, you also vote for the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, the next Chief Justice. You can get a handle on what kind of a cabinet you will see if you can get a good estimation of what the Presidential Candidate is like. Bush's feckless administration was hardly a surprise to anyone who had the least gage of the man himself. The Republicans also knew what they were getting for a Government. That's WHY they voted for that idiot.

The Founding Fathers may not have known it, but the mechanism they invented to get a President insures a largely two party system.

It also insures that we can always elect a very good government if we do remember that we may only vote for the President and Vice President, we elect an entire administration.

But that was not particularly germane to the intended thread.

Posted by: ceflynline | May 5, 2009 9:03 PM | Report abuse

I take it back... I LOVE the primaries and they are one hundred percent necessary!

Posted by: HannahBanana | May 5, 2009 8:52 PM | Report abuse

Whether primaries make a difference, or whether they hurt or help get the best candidates depends on who is running them, and what the circumstances are that affect the climate during the primaries.

The Republican Primaries are in fact set up deliberately to give the most conservative twenty to twenty-five percent of the active Republicans the ability to stuff their candidate down the party's throat. Goldwater set up the process, and Nixon, Reagan, and W's handlers used the system to get their guy in when he rarely had as much as a third of the parties enthusiastic endorsement. It works that way because the Republicans front load winner take all delegates primaries in many larger states while there are still likely to be many candidates running, before the least prepared have to drop out. This kind of front loading really helps when some of the candidates don't feel like taking on the early rounds of the primaries for whatever reason. note that while the conservative annointee usually has lots of delegates by mid race, that candidate rarely ever gets more then 25% of the vote. it is just that the centrists don't coalesce quickly enough on a candidate towin any early primaries, and lose a primary, get no votes. McCain was regularly outpolled by both Hillary and Barack, and never broke the thirty percent barrier before he lost Texas twice to the Democrats. He DID always have the largest plurality, though, and thus closed the deal early, and paid for it by letting Hillary and Barack have the spotlight all the way to june.

When you get an open race for the Democratic nomination, and have more than one good candidate, you get a real bonus. Theoretically Hillary was the more desirable nominee, because that would have left Barack for 2016, giving him eight years to build coalitions and earn markers to use ala LBJ when he did get in. But since it really was about finding the most electable candidate, and Barack energized the discouraged and the otherwise apathetic to get out and vote, he was probably instrumental in generating real coattails for the party. Only a good primary season does that.

When, however, you get an embittering primary season, like 1968, and people feel that there man should have gotten the nomination, like McCarthy, even though Gene didn't really make much more than a half-hearted try for it, you lose the workers who otherwise might have turned the election around. HHH might have actually won in 68 if the McCarthyites hadn't gone off and sulked on election day.

So do Primaries matter?

Again, depends. This years did; the Dems won because of a rousing season, and the dog of a Republican Primary campaign certainly did nothing good for McCain.

Posted by: ceflynline | May 5, 2009 8:45 PM | Report abuse

As much as it pains me to say it, they hurt. I think all political geeks like me out there know that when primary season rolls around, grades slip and work takes a backseat. Hey, the first step is admitting you have a problem...

Posted by: HannahBanana | May 5, 2009 8:14 PM | Report abuse

Unfortunately, mark_in_austin, some woman "fearful" of the scar left by a C-section would qualify under the HEALTH exception.

Posted by: JakeD | May 5, 2009 8:10 PM | Report abuse

For those of you who would weigh the health of momma in the third trimester, what if the alternative to abortion [for momma's health or life] were a caesarian section delivery of a premature but viable infant? Would you say kill the infant or deliver her/him?

I suspect that in third trimester a live delivery is often a possibility. I would like to hear from an MD about this.

Posted by: mark_in_austin | May 5, 2009 7:58 PM | Report abuse


So, you think that John Edwards's big mistake was not getting out in front of the mistress story? Genius.

Posted by: JakeD | May 5, 2009 7:45 PM | Report abuse

Primaries certainly helped BHO.

His battles with the Hillarians allowed him to sharpen his message, hone his speaking style, and figure out how to defend against the idiotic personal attacks (flagpins, etc.). Another benefit: It seems Fox News and friends used up all their ammunition against BHO in the primary so they had nothing left for the general election and post-inauguration.

Now when Hannity and crew talk about Reverend Wright, as Hannity did a few days ago, everybody yawns.

Posted by: broadwayjoe | May 5, 2009 7:37 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, well "Doctor" Mengele certified there were genuine medical reasons too. Childbirth is a traumatic experience, so you could drive a Mack truck through your proposed "exception". How about we compromise: I will agree to government funded-abortions for all mothers who are registered Democrats?

Posted by: JakeD | May 5, 2009 6:22 PM | Report abuse


If the doctor certifies that there are genuine medical reasons for aborting the late term fetus and the mother wants to terminate, that's the end of it.

Posted by: Bondosan | May 5, 2009 6:18 PM | Report abuse


Well, what meaningful restrictions would there be if the mother can simply say: "my mental health would be strained"?

Posted by: JakeD | May 5, 2009 5:54 PM | Report abuse


I'm willing to accept restrictions on third trimester abortions provided there are exceptions for the life AND HEALTH of the mother.

I understand the political considerations of Obama's decision not to pursue indictments, but I disagree with him. By not prosecuting, we are opening the door to future transgressions by future administrations.

Posted by: Bondosan | May 5, 2009 5:35 PM | Report abuse

It should not just be 3 parties-
I am on the extreme left on most postitions and have noone representing my interests- I have little money to give the parties- so they are uninterested in my opinion- and before we talk about the "grassroots" Obama campaign- note that 55% of his money in the primaries came from "bundlers"- a group dominated by people who can afford to give the maximum money- in his case, bankers and energy companies were well represented.

I would like to vote for a group that represents my priorities, and let the 100 other people in the country that feel the way I do gather our representation so that we can be part of the negotiations/compromise- in other words- why not a parliamentary system?

Posted by: NYClefty | May 5, 2009 5:24 PM | Report abuse


I wouldn't mind seeing a viable third party (or fourth party). But there's so much money out there being controlled by the GOP and the Dems that it will take either a huge groundswell or a very rich person to get another party going. Perot did a credible job giving an alternative, though that only lasted as long as he did.

Posted by: mnteng | May 5, 2009 5:24 PM | Report abuse

Mnteng, I agree with you.

JakeD makes a good point about third parties - I believe that in '92 we would have heard nothing useful until BigEars forced the issues onto the table. I voted for BigEars twice, of course.

I also agree with bsimon. The good campaigner thrives, the bad campaigner dies.

Posted by: mark_in_austin | May 5, 2009 5:20 PM | Report abuse

@ reason5: Nice post. Very well reasoned and well articulated.

To answer the question: Primaries help. Although the ideological differences between same-party candidates generally are minor, the debates and interchanges throughout the extended campaign period highlight the opponents' strengths and weaknesses in presenting themselves before a national audience and handling the media. These factors are important, and ideally the primaries will result in the nomination of the candidate who is most likely to win the general election, the ultimate goal of each party.

I also think there's a viable argument that in the case of national campaigns, primaries draw politicians to states that might receive minimal attention in the general election. Swing states always will receive a good deal of political exposure because we all need those electoral votes. But less "significant" states are elevated in the primaries, and those voting constituencies potentially could benefit from the up close and personal time to evaluate their candidates that they won't get in October.

Posted by: Allison10 | May 5, 2009 5:19 PM | Report abuse


What do you think of the partial-birth abortion ban and Obama NOT prosecuting Bush-Cheney for "war crimes"?

Posted by: JakeD | May 5, 2009 5:18 PM | Report abuse

There is no perfect system. A healthy democracy requires an informed and active citizenry who then make wise choices.

Before widespread primaries, party bosses picked candidates in smoke-filled rooms or after multiple ballots at conventions. Some of the choices were terrific (FDR) and some were clunkers (Harding).

The real problem with primaries today (for choosing presidential candidates) is the rush to be first, which is creating endless problems for both parties. I think rotating regional primaries beginning with groups of smaller states and leading to larger ones is probably the way to go.

Posted by: Bondosan | May 5, 2009 5:08 PM | Report abuse

mnteng (speaking of "grassroots"):

Contrary to claims from those who assert the introduction of third parties into our political system would only worsen the existing problems of gridlock, American history shows that third parties actually enhance the positive consequences of a two-party system. Here's how:

In a healthy two-party system, the major parties are distinguished from each other by a clearly differentiated platform. Voters, for the most part, enthusiastically hold allegiance to one of these parties and participate with high turnout at the polls. The parties are characterized by internal cohesion. When these conditions exist, the two major parties will ideally protect the political system against tyranny and legislative gridlock.

Using the criteria of higher voter turnout, the absence of gridlock and the exchange of power between two major parties, we see that our two-party system was healthy in the 1870s, 1880s and 1890s. During that time, control of the House passed back and forth, on the average, every four years. Each party was clearly differentiated in its platforms. And almost 80 percent of eligible voters went to the polls from 1876 to 1892.

A key reason for this vibrancy was the existence of many vigorous and powerful third parties. Some examples are the Greenback Party, the Union Labor Party and the Peoples Party. These groups forced the major political parties to pass significant anti-monopoly legislation as well as important labor legislation.

But these parties did more than simply force the two major parties to adopt various policies. Third parties have always provided an emotional bridge for voters who are weary of supporting one major party but aren't yet ready to vote for the other.

There is another crucial contribution. The emotional bridge provided by a third party not only lures voters to the polls-it can also help turn one of the major parties out of power. Without the third-party bridges, the party in power might never be defeated, a situation that could lead to stagnation.

We need third parties more than ever to introduce new ideas into the system, provide an outlet for people unhappy with current government policy, and make it possible for some third party to grow into a new major party, replacing one of the existing parties.

(Richard Winger is the editor and publisher of Ballot Access News)

Posted by: JakeD | May 5, 2009 4:56 PM | Report abuse


I think I agree with you to a point, but you lost me in the middle -- Kennedy was a "grassroots" candidate in the 1980 primary? Sure, he was challenging the incumbent, but I can't imagine thinking about a Kennedy as being anything but the D political establishment.

Was Kerry helped by the primary against Edwards, et al.?

I guess I don't see there being a real cut-and-dried rule as to whether primaries are beneficial or harmful, though I think the more the voters get to see from their candidates, the better it is for our democracy.

Posted by: mnteng | May 5, 2009 4:54 PM | Report abuse

For the record, I like the archaic Democratic Party rules that allow a few people in a few overrepresented "caucus" states to dominate the whole system and, especially, when non party members are allowed to vote. That's the best.

Posted by: JakeD | May 5, 2009 4:37 PM | Report abuse

JakeD: Well, of course Chris loves primaries because it's good theater, and that's Chris's beat.

Primaries may or may not be good for the parties. That's besides the point. Allowing actual voters to vote on who should represent them is inherently better than the alternative.

Posted by: seantolsen | May 5, 2009 4:35 PM | Report abuse

which just filters back to the question- as they are set up, who do the primaries represent? It is not a democratic system.

Posted by: NYClefty | May 5, 2009 4:31 PM | Report abuse

Respectfully, understanding why The Fix LOVES them, my belief is fully stated in your second option, Chris. Namely, "...they (are) typically bloody and expensive contests that distract from the general elections where there are real differences between the candidates..."!

It is my belief, too, that the Electoral College should be abolished, and we should have direct majority vote, that anything else is too riddled with risk of rigging.

BTW, I am 51, so I've had a few decades to ponder this question! ;)

Posted by: rm8471 | May 5, 2009 4:28 PM | Report abuse


To be fair, Chris said he LOVES primaries.

Posted by: JakeD | May 5, 2009 4:28 PM | Report abuse

Is it good or is it bad for actual voters to decide who should represent them? Only a Beltway journalist could ask this sort of inane question...

Posted by: seantolsen | May 5, 2009 4:26 PM | Report abuse


Were you in the Navy?

Posted by: JakeD | May 5, 2009 4:24 PM | Report abuse

Apology accepted.

Posted by: JakeD | May 5, 2009 4:23 PM | Report abuse

so you weren't joking about wanting a floor fight- even between sides that essentially agreed on almost all important issues. Got it.

I'm a political junkie too- but in no way wanted to see anything like that. Sorry if I misinterpreted what you were saying.

Posted by: NYClefty | May 5, 2009 4:19 PM | Report abuse

The Fix has also made clear their feelings about primaries: they love them too!

Posted by: JakeD | May 5, 2009 4:12 PM | Report abuse

NYClefty / Leon:

I already answered that question - I love primaries, the bloodier the better -- I do not agree with you that it is "broken" system.

Posted by: JakeD | May 5, 2009 4:08 PM | Report abuse

Alot depends on the challenge. If an incumbent is being challenged, it's bad because the party is far from united, and the incubent is seen as week but almost always wins. And if the party is ready to challenge you, the middle is pretty much gone.

When it's two people vying for a new post (Rendell-Casey 2002, Clinton-Obama 2008) it creates a dynamic where 90% of what the say is in them agreeing with the other one, there-by strengthening the parties position.
Florida's senate primary will be good for a party due to the idealogical split the GOP has. It's the Texas Gov. and Pennsylvania Senate primaries that could lead to losses in November.

Posted by: dirtyseabee | May 5, 2009 4:07 PM | Report abuse

Jake D,

I am not here slamming all of the bullsxxt that Barak did during and after the campaign- yet you continue to slam the Clintons- perhaps you should figure out why that is- this is supposed to be a conversation about primaries, not a forum for whatever it is that makes you hate the SOS so much.


Posted by: NYClefty | May 5, 2009 4:04 PM | Report abuse

Jake D-

Not arguing with speculation. Polling in September indicated that 88% of HRC voters were voting for Obama, polling in November put the number closer to 97%. You can go on with unreasonable hatred of HRC- you can pick apart what other posters say so that you can make a statement like "12>1"- whatever...It is all a distraction away from the point. If you want to talk about the point- do so. The system has significant problems. You can't possibly look at what happened in the Texas primaries where 53% vote one way only to have the caucuses (attended only by repeat voters who have lots of time on their hands- biased towards professionals and students without children) in terms of delegages and say that is democratic. The point is that the primary system is broken, not who you think HRC voted for.


Posted by: NYClefty | May 5, 2009 4:01 PM | Report abuse

"After the primary, Hillary Clinton endorsed & campaigned for Clinton."

My vote for the best Freudian slip of the Week.

Posted by: JakeD | May 5, 2009 3:58 PM | Report abuse

I think whether a primary is a good or bad thing depends on the nature of a primary. For example, the nationwide Democratic presidential primary of Obama vs. Clinton was great for the Democratic party. It was a one on one primary that mainly emphasized on style & communication differences. Obama won on both. So, even though he started as the underdog, his ability to organize at the grass roots, raise money & effectively get moderate Republicans changed over to the Democratic side set the tone for the primary, and ultimately the GE. This primary ultimately benefitted from the newly found crossover democrats. After the primary, Hillary Clinton endorsed & campaigned for Clinton. The very same thing can be said for the Reagan/Bush primary in 1980. Reagan ran as an outside the beltway conservative who had great communication skills and a friendlier style than George Bush...hmm, Obama emulated the traits that made Reagan & the Republican party great in the 1980's for the Democrats in 2008. Both Reagan & Obama had the grassroots support of their party, while Bush & Clinton were the inside the beltway favorites. On the other hand, a Carter/Kennedy primary really hurt Jimmy Carter in 1980. In the 2006 RI senate primary, US Senator Lincoln Chaffee defeated Craston Mayor Steven Laffey. In both of these cases, Chaffee & Carter were incumbents in primaries against a candidate supported by the base of the party. Kennedy & Laffey both had the grassroots of their party support. However, the establishment support of Carter & Chaffee dragged them both through the primaries. Both Carter & Chaffee lost the GE. Reagan & Obama both had the grassroots support of their party & beat the establishment & party favorite, as both of them won their general elections.

So, does a primary help or hurt a party & a candidate? It depends. On what? It seems, historically, that in an open race when a grassroots supported candidate challenges an establishment supported candidate primaries are a great thing for the nominee & the party ! Examples: Reagan & Obama. If a primary takes place when a grassroots candidate decides to challenge an establishment incumbent, then primaries are generally a bad thing. Examples: Chaffee & Carter. There are exceptions, of course. Arlen Specter pulling out a primary & GE in 2004. But the primary wasn't good for Specter even then.

So, my logic here is that whether a primary is good or bad depends upon is it an open seat or a party held seat? If the seat is open and a grassroots candidate faces an establishment candidate, primaries are a great thing. If a grassroots candidate is challenging an establishment incumbent, primaries are a bad thing. What does everyone think of this argument? Criticisms & Kudos welcomed!

Posted by: reason5 | May 5, 2009 3:54 PM | Report abuse

how is HRC vs. Barak past vs. future-

have we had a female president yet?

her policies were more ambitiously progressive domestically than his were- health care, energy, NAFTA and even the mortgage crisis, which she addressed first in 9/07- 6 months before he aknowledged the problem by dismissing her ideas to freeze and help renegotiate terms on mortgages

Past vs. future, change, "yes we can", it's marketing...slogans, any Dem president would have done all of the things he has done thus far- nothing has been "new"

I'm happy that the other party is out- and more liberal of the two (which isn't saying much) is in- but let's not act like he is really anything different from what she would have been- or for that matter any of them with the possible exception of John Edwards, who had the best ideas- but right now would be under potential impeachment for legal violations.

Posted by: NYClefty | May 5, 2009 3:53 PM | Report abuse

I ran for State Legislature three times--all without drawing a primary opponent. Hmm...maybe that's why I never won the general. Yeah.. that's the ticket.

Posted by: soonerthought | May 5, 2009 3:48 PM | Report abuse


I wasn't the one who claimed "NO ONE asked for a floor fight." Even if it was only 12, that's more than none. I would be interested in how many Clinton voters didn't vote for Obama. Did Bill or Hillary? I suspect it's a larger percentage than you would like to admit.

Posted by: JakeD | May 5, 2009 3:47 PM | Report abuse

Trick question Chris. Primaries are great for political junkies like ourselves. Frankly, primary only work when the state does not allow the option of registering as a D, R or I. Otherwise the only people voting are those who fall into the extremes of either party. The entire middle of the electorate is left out and are stuck having to decide between a Pete Hoekstra or a Nancy Pelosi!

Posted by: kristilj | May 5, 2009 3:40 PM | Report abuse

Primaries - yes definitely. They not only make the candidates better, they're good for local party organizations. The Republican party of Hawaii is very small. Out of 51 seats in our legislature something like 7 are GOP. Without primaries, the voters would have next to ZERO input in choosing their representatives and no way at all to organize the broad range of views among Democrats.

Furthermore, as in many places, big money interests like to organize our politics for us. Primaries are our way around that, and in our state legislature, my county does surprisingly well. Unfortunately, in local politics we're still working on that...

Posted by: kalliek | May 5, 2009 3:37 PM | Report abuse

Normally I think primaries are a very good thing, but some of the primaries coming up (most notably the Texas Governor Republican Primary and Pennsylvania Senate Republican Primary - should Tom Ridge run) almost have a feeling like a battle between mainstream Republicans (KBH and Ridge) and fringe . (Perry and Toomey). What made Hillary and Barack so great and interesting to watch, was that they agreed on about 95-98% of their policies so it was really about the past v. the future with them. PA and TX are anything but that, it's about compromise v. my way or the highway and that is far scarier than anything Hillary and Barack had going.

Posted by: robbygtx | May 5, 2009 3:35 PM | Report abuse

Its not an either-or question. A savvy campaign can use a primary to properly prepare for the general election. Others end up shooting themselves in the foot.

Posted by: bsimon1 | May 5, 2009 3:31 PM | Report abuse

If Barak Obama had not come from nowhere to defeat The Clintons, he could never have won the general election. He needed more than the exposure, he needed to absorb all of the attacks so by the time the Republicans started repeating the same things over again it got tiresome, oh so tiresome.

Posted by: shrink2 | May 5, 2009 3:28 PM | Report abuse

I think we are ignoring one of the major problems with primaries. Most primaries are closed, and because of that, the extremes of each party are moved to the forefront. This leads to moderate candidates from both parties being eliminated (or forced to go around the party system, like Joe Lieberman did). What primaries do is make the candidates in the general election more partisan. This is the real problem with primaries.

Posted by: ohioexile | May 5, 2009 3:26 PM | Report abuse

there were like 12 PUMAs nationally and the media and a few Obama nuts who can't let go of hatred pretended like there were more for a good story- look at the polling- what % of HRC voters voted for him? Hell, I was at "Camp Obama" for training for intensive work for him and about 1/3 of the participants were former HRC supporters.

Posted by: NYClefty | May 5, 2009 3:25 PM | Report abuse

I like Primaries by and large. The biggest problem I see is the tendency of those on the fringe, of both parties, to have an outsized influence on, not only the outcome, but the content of the conversation.

Posted by: luvmy91stang | May 5, 2009 3:22 PM | Report abuse

Maybe we should have a bunch of parties, well we do, but like a third ballot that would pick up all the stragglers.. even better it we had the main primary first, then put all the losers (or ties) into a secondary lottery (I mean primary) -- wouldn't it be nice that, if we screwed up, we would get a second chance to fix it.

Posted by: newbeeboy | May 5, 2009 3:19 PM | Report abuse

PUMAs asked for a floor fight.

Posted by: JakeD | May 5, 2009 3:11 PM | Report abuse

Jake D,

Noone asked for a floor fight. As soon as she dropped out I started volunteering for him- however, the process could have clearly been more democratic- just because your candidate wins- it does not excuse the problems in the system- ends do not justify means.

Posted by: NYClefty | May 5, 2009 3:09 PM | Report abuse

Parties are not necessary- we could just vote straight up and down for the candidate with the best policies; you can even let top 5 in and then revote to ensure that more ideas are represented

Or we could just go parliamentary

Either way, it's more democratic-
this past cycle- 50% voted for each candidate and we were told for 3 months that the one who lost the caucuses had no chance and was just hanging on for ego- something the NOONE did when the sainted Ted Kennedy wrecked the party in 1980 with only 20% of the delegates. He then persisted to not cooperate with the winner, whereas this time there was more cooperation than there has been in any other election ever between former competitors.

Posted by: NYClefty | May 5, 2009 3:06 PM | Report abuse

Leon / NYClefty:

I agree that Hillary DIANE Clinton was robbed! A floor fight would have been MUCH better ; )

Posted by: JakeD | May 5, 2009 3:05 PM | Report abuse

The primaries would be helpful if they didn't have crazy archaic rules that allow a few people in a few overrepresented "caucus" states to dominate the whole system- think about it- less than 9500 people in the whole state of Wyoming voted in the Dem primary- and because some 5500 of them voted one way- one candidate got the 3/4 of the delegates. In other states, non party members are allowed to vote- which is the equivalent of me, as an agnostic, voting with the church elders to choose a minister- you either commit to being part of a "party" or you don't. You don't have to vote for the party if you join it anyway- but it gives you the right to select it's representatives.
Then there are states where you vote twice, like Texas, where the winner can be the loser, and Washington, where voting doesn't count if you couldn't take hours out of your time to get yourself to a caucus.

In essence, the primaries, which should make things more democratic, make them far less.


Posted by: NYClefty | May 5, 2009 2:59 PM | Report abuse

C'mon, we should all know by now not to throw the baby out with the bathwater!

On the one hand, closed primaries are dominated by party extremists whose candidates may be unpalatable to the general electorate.

On the other hand, open primaries are invaded by the OTHER parties extremists hoping to eliminate the opponent most palatable to the electorate.

Either way, (the question really is to what degree) the true will of the people are distorted by the enthusiasm of the activists and professionals.

Posted by: mabkhar | May 5, 2009 2:59 PM | Report abuse

This is a strange question.

There's no feasible way for a party to field more than one candidate for an office. If multiple people want to be that candidate, there needs to be a selection process. That selection could be a primary (or caucus) that lets the voters choose, or the party leaders could select a candidate. I can't imagine anyone arguing that the second option is better. So primaries win by default.

The presidential primary system has a lot of flaws. There are issues of scheduling, proportional allocation, superdelegates, etc. But getting rid of primaries altogether just doesn't make sense.

Posted by: Blarg | May 5, 2009 2:57 PM | Report abuse

Without a doubt, I'm hoping for a Ted Kennedy-like challenge to Obama in 2012 ; )

Posted by: JakeD | May 5, 2009 2:55 PM | Report abuse

If someone is "too weaken" in the primaries, he (or she) is not a good leader anyway.

Posted by: JakeD | May 5, 2009 2:36 PM | Report abuse

Since we are pretty much down to one party, these intraparty squabbles are all we have left.

Posted by: newbeeboy | May 5, 2009 2:35 PM | Report abuse

I think the Ed Rendell-Bob Casey primary matchup in 2002 gave Rendell a huge advantage in the race for PA gov. That race got a lot of attention while the Republican candidate seemed almost forgotten. On election day, he was.

Posted by: MathewF | May 5, 2009 2:21 PM | Report abuse

I love primaries, the bloodier the better (but, then again, I would have loved gladiators in the Flavian Amphitheatre ; )

Posted by: JakeD | May 5, 2009 2:20 PM | Report abuse

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