In Partisan Primary Elections Demand Proof Over Platitudes

This week’s Courier Herald column:

When the gavels in the Georgia House and Senate signal Sine Die, all of the usual signs of spring emerge.  The Masters will be played in Augusta, Spring breakers will populate our beaches, and those that govern will immediately begin asking for our money and our votes.

Georgia’s primaries, where partisan contests are handled within each political party, will be held May 24th.  That’s less than two months away. 

And yet, we’re roughly one month away from voting.  Advance in-person and absentee voting begins May 2nd. 

Incumbents seeking state offices are barred from fundraising when the General Assembly is in session, but will need to fund their campaigns quickly to meet the compressed campaign timeline.  Those of you unlucky enough to be on political donor and activists lists are warned that your mailboxes will be inundated beginning Tuesday April 5th with appeals to fund “the most important election of our lifetime.”  We have one of these every two years.

This election will be unique, however.  District maps for Congress, State Senate and House, and many county and city positions have been redrawn with data from the 2020 census.  Don’t assume the people you voted for two years ago will be among those on your ballot this year.

Before investing your time and/or money into candidates for this election, it’s best that you check with the My Voter page at the Georgia Secretary of State’s office to see the districts to which you are now assigned.  You can find this at MVP.SOS.GA.GOV.

Then there is the changing nature of primaries themselves. I once challenged a sitting State Senator in a primary way back in 1998.  We both lost, but that’s beside the point.

Back then, it was rare to see an intra-party challenge to an incumbent.  The battles were clearly partisan, Democrat vs Republican.  It was frowned upon to waste scarce resources for battles within one’s own party when so much was needed to battle those in the other party.

Today, many – perhaps too many – offices are held in districts drawn to suit one specific party.  Meanwhile, it’s become fashionable to skip all lower level offices and begin a political career at any level of office one chooses.  When we’ve elected a President with no experience in elected office, it’s hard to tell a candidate for U.S. Senate, Congress, or any other position that they need to start out smaller and learn the ropes. 

The result of these changes is that there’s a lot of action within partisan primary contests.  The number of candidates for each race has increased significantly over the past few decades, and intra-party challenges to incumbents are almost the norm. 

Because primaries cater to “the base” of each party, this ends up skewing campaign talking points hard right or hard left.  Gone are the days when a candidate could or would cater to their party’s core during a primary and pivot to more centrist positions for the general elections.

Today’s game is about catering to the base at all times.  Candidates want to ensure those that they motivated during a primary still show up for November’s general election.  Once elected, they remain ever mindful of the next primary and potential challengers should they become a squishy moderate.

When there are so many candidates to choose from, how is a voter supposed to understand who can best deliver on the promises made?  How does a voter separate bonafide pledges from gratuitous platitudes?

I start with experience, as I still believe it matters and can break a tie.  Anyone can throw bombs.  Has the person making the “most conservative” or “most progressive” claims ever led…anything?  Someone who has led a committee in the legislature is much more likely to deliver than someone who sat on the back row and used his or her office to criticize leaders of their own party. 

That’s your first test.  I tend to eliminate those who promise they will fix everything that’s wrong with government by first eliminating their own leadership – especially when that person has never actually led anything to victory but perhaps their own campaign.

Anyone can promise to be the purest.  Before you pledge your vote, ask your candidates to demonstrate very specifically how they have used their platform in the past to actually get something done.

Add a Comment