Saturday, July 31, 2010

Primary Calculations

Whenever a Democratic officeholder betrays the cause, I am always the first to shout "Primary the fucker!" But Jon Walker uses a current republican primary to illuminate the multiple contradictory factors involved in primaries.

Staunch conservative Christine O’Donnell is challenging Rep. Mike Castle (R-DE at large) for the Republican nomination for the Delaware Senate seat formerly held by Joe Biden. Despite Castle being the establishment choice with a good chance of winning in a blue state, O’Donnell has lined up impressive endorsements from powerful conservative organizations, including the Susan B. Anthony List, Tea Party Express and Concerned Women for America. Seeing conservatives wrestle with which candidate is the best choice for advancing their policy goals is a great way for the progressive community to understand the policy and economics of primary challenges.


Understanding how and when primary challenges are effective for advancing the policy of a group of activists is not always easy. There are many factors at play and some are very hard to quantify. How much value different groups put on certain issues and how likely they think a challenger is to win the general election will affect support for a primary challenge.

Understanding these factors and judging them properly can be difficult when you are on the “inside” and emotionally wrapped up in the issues and elections. Progressives should take a dispassionate look at the policy economics at play in the primary challenges of conservative activists, and learn lessons to apply to their own plans.

Read the whole thing.

But keep in mind that this kind of super-practical calculation is not the only way to evaluate a primary challenge. Nor is electing a reliable party vote the only possible goal.

Primary challenges can be wake-up calls for entrenched incumbents. They can be tools for grassroots recruiting. And they can be expressions of populist democracy.

The key is to know what your real goal is, and allocate resources accordingly.

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