Inside the Capitol

Thursday, August 26, 2010

9-1 Primaries Lasting Nearly All Year

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- Does it seem to you that the primary election season is a year-long affair this time around? It's probably because it just about is. Political primaries began Feb. 2 in Illinois and end Oct. 2 in Louisiana.
New Mexico's June 1 primary elections were right about in the middle of the calendar. August was the most popular month for primaries. September will see 11 more of them.
General election campaign strategies vary widely depending on when a primary occurs. New Mexico's November gubernatorial election campaign began hours after the polls closed on June 1 with much negativity. Can you imagine starting all that on February. 2?
With voter anger at a high pitch, negative campaigning has been rampant throughout the nation. The joke among political operatives everywhere this year has been that if you are planning a positive campaign ad, don't bother. Just donate the money to charity.
This year's primary election campaigns have been highly intense. Angry Tea Partiers have been going after GOP establishment candidates with some success. Three Republican senatorial incumbents already have gone down to defeat and there may be more.
In addition, the super rich have been jumping into the primaries of both parties and upsetting apple carts. The most extreme example was conservative Republican Rick Scott spending over $20 million of personal funds to defeat the party favorite in the Florida governor's race.
Scott says he'll spend $50 million in the general election. He made that money in the health insurance business.
In the Florida gubernatorial primary, $20 million wasn't enough for Democrat Jeff Greene to win against the party favorite. Greene made his money betting against the failing real estate market in Florida.
Another unusual feature of the 2010 primaries has been the influence of Sarah Palin. She has flitted about the country, endorsing mostly Tea Party candidates against party favorites and coming out with about an even record, which is great for betting on long shots.
Palin made an exception in endorsing John McCain in his Arizona Senate race. Guess she wanted to show there weren't too many hard feelings about the slams she received from McCain staff in 2008. McCain's prospects appeared shaky when she endorsed him but that and $21 million gave him a huge victory.
Presidential primaries are completely different events. Few of them are held at the same time as primary elections for state offices because of the rush to stage early primaries that will have more influence.
Both national political parties are upset that the situation has gotten out of hand. Two years ago the season began the first week of January, which meant heavy campaigning during the Christmas holidays.
Plans have been made to stop that silliness by pushing the start back to February for a few states and March for the rest. Parties still can't force states to comply. Their only sanction is to allocate fewer convention votes to renegade states, which then threaten to not support the party in November.
For 2012, Republicans have adopted "The Ohio Plan" that allows the traditional states to go early, followed by small states, with big states bringing up the rear.
One feature that likely will not change is the winner-take-all rules of some state Republican parties. That rule results in the party usually having its candidate chosen very early in the process. Democrats require proportional representation.
Another primary election change may be on the way. California voters have approved a ballot measure that will end party primaries for all offices and substitute a "top two" nominating system in which all candidates will appear on the same ballot. The two most favored, regardless of party, will go on to the November election.
Reformers, led by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, are frustrated by the polarization that hobbles their legislature and Congress. This enables all voters to screen all candidates during the primary. The hope is that it will lead to more moderate candidates.
WED, 9-01-10

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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