Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Delaney v. Hogsett: Why Local Democrats Should Welcome a Primary Contest for Indianapolis Mayor

Do contested primaries hurt the candidates involved?  If you listen to most political activists, the answer is a definite "yes."  They claim nomination contests drain candidates that could be used in the general election.  An additional argument is that bruising primaries end up with candidates irreparable damaged as they move on to the next round.   Inevitably the fact that a party's nominee will be determined in a contested primary is celebrated with glee by partisans on the other side.

It's all a bunch of bunk.  I'm here to tell you that contested primaries can actually be a very good thing for a party and its nominee.  Case in point is the presidential election of 2008.

The Republicans settled on a nominee early, Arizona Senator John McCain.  Meanwhile the Democrats had a fiercely contested series of primary battles involving Illinois Senator Barack Obama and former First Lady and New York Senator Hillary Clinton.

Joe Hogsett
In 2008, Republicans celebrated that Democrats were pouring money into the Obama and Clinton campaigns, money that wouldn't be available to the Democratic nominee in the Fall.  GOP leaders were certain that this would lead to a lack of resources and a Democratic nominee permanently damaged by the bruising nomination fight.

It didn't happen.  The Democrats used the primary battle to register hundreds of thousands of new voters and to energize their base.  The Democratic candidates were able to sharpen their message and hone their campaign machinery.  

But what about primary candidates burning through money?  That money is not lost.  It is invested to raise the profile of candidates during the primary window, when people are paying attention.    Plus, people misunderstand the importance of money in a campaign. The focus should not necessarily be on who has more money, but whether the candidates' campaigns are adequately funded.  If $2 million does that in a particular race, then candidate X with $4 million only has a relatively small advantage of a candidate with $2 million.  In other words, a candidate having twice as much money when both campaigns are adequately funded, does equate to an exponential (x2) advantage in money.

Further, when it's a high profile race, the candidates are going to receive an enormous amount of "earned media," free publicity simply because of the nature of the race. There was little chance that voters going into the voting booth in the fall of 2008 wouldn't know the major candidates for president.

As far as candidates being irreparably hurt by bruising primary exchanges, voters have a short memory when it comes to such matters.   They also take such exchanges with a grain of salt.  Finally,
Rep. Ed Delaney
those early primary attacks allow negative allegations about the candidates to be exposed and turned into old news before the general election rolls around.

This discussion about contested primaries is relevant because it looks like Indianapolis will see a contested Democratic primary for mayor in 2015.  State Representative Ed Delaney is the only declared candidate thus far.  However, former U.S. Attorney Joe Hogsett is waiting in the wings having filed an exploratory campaign.  Delaney will probably run as the more traditional liberal, while Hogsett might brush off a strategy he employed as a campaign manager for former Governor Evan Bayh and his own campaign for Secretary of State by using a more fiscal conservative message to pick off Republican voters.  Of course, that's more of a general election strategy not one that would necessarily work with Democratic primary voters.  But a campaign challenging Mayor Ballard's priorities in office would likely resonate with Democratic voters in a primary and also be a strategy that could be used in a general election.

A hotly contested mayoral primary could be the best thing that happens to the local Democratic party.  It would energize the Democratic party base resulting in increased registration and turnout.  Having party leaders pick the candidates through the slating process, as both local parties do, actually hurts the process of building a strong party electorate and recruiting the hordes of grass roots workers needed to win campaigns.

No, local Marion County Republicans should not be celebrating a primary battle between Ed Delaney and Joe Hogsett. They should be worried...very worried.

3 comments:

Steve Hofer said...

I agree with you. A contested primary is good for the Democrats. They have no bench, and they have no awareness. Anything they can do to get candidates into the limelight before the general election season is good. Hogsett is still considered to be one of the Democrats' "young guns", and he is 57 going on 58.

Jon said...

Indianapolis will go the way of Lake County, a democratic majority will always vote straight democaratic. You can ran a dead guy and still win the election. The Dems don't need a primary, they just need a candidate.

Pete Boggs said...

Internal party hostility & insecurity is an idiotic response to primary challenge; unnatural to the grass root purpose, of what's supposed to be a viable party. By way of illogic, this idiocy (how dare you challenge me, BS) would extend to fellow competitors in 5K runs & spelling bees.

Commitment of "resources" is the common excuse for such hostility, but reason suggests that outa-whack egos are the problem; detached from any solution beyond self interest. Ain't we fortunate, to be treated to such a spectacle?

Competition is a natural isometric which promotes better, grass rooted health, of what are supposed to be ideologically dynamic parties.