Primaries and Party Politics

A few days back, I noted on my twitter account that just about every incumbent GOP politician had endorsed Todd Young for the 9th District Congressional seat. This includes, according to Young:

  • Treasurer Richard Mourdock
  • Lieutenant Governor Becky Skillman
  • Attorney General Greg Zoeller
  • Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett
  • Auditor Tim Berry
  • Secretary of State Todd Rokita

Scott Fluhr picked up on this theme on his site, Hoosierpundit, and wondered why it seemed like the state GOP was so anxious to avoid a primary in this race:

I’m reminded (for better or worse) of Jon Costas and the AG race last year. All of the statewides were lined up in relatively short order for the chosen one; they endorsed, everyone else was supposed to follow.

Indianapolis picks, you see. That there are other declared candidates (and potential additional entries–such as Kerry Stemler of One Southern Indiana and ROCK fame–remain the subject of much buzz and rumor), but the statewides will pick for us and that will be that. We’re not allowed to be left alone to hash it out in our own primary process. It’s supposed to be a done deal long before that time ever comes.

Today, we get a sneak peek at state Dems doing something similar. Chris Sautter, writing at Howey Politics, notes that:

Democratic Chairman Dan Parker has invited potential 2012 gubernatorial candidates to a meeting Saturday at the home of Bren Simon to discuss how to avoid a repeat of the 2008. Among those invited are 9th District Congressman Baron Hill and Evansville Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel, considered to be the two likely front-runners.

There is no shortage of potential candidates for the 2012 gubernatorial race, including Bart Peterson, Roy Dominguez, Tom McDermott – and even Schellinger and Thompson haven’t ruled out running again. Sautter goes on to argue that the Indiana Democratic Party’s early selection of Schellinger as the preferred candidate for governor in 2008 is an example of the pre-existing internal divisions that lead to divisive primaries. Then he notes:

The manner in which party leaders and the losing candidates have conducted themselves since Creigh Deeds’ upset victory in Virginia provides an instructive contrast to their Hoosier counterparts. At Deeds’ victory press conference on the day after the primary, both McAuliffe and Moran enthusiastically pledged their support to Deeds, offering money and staff. Not only did Schellinger and Parker skip Long Thompson’s victory press conference, Schellinger never did endorse her and instead met secretly with Daniels. Meanwhile, Parker quietly did everything possible to sabotage his own nominee’s campaign against Daniels.

I know Thomas and others here may argue with that last bit. But it remains to be seen how divided Hoosier Dems are heading into 2010 and 2012. On one hand, the state gave its electoral votes to a Democratic President, and reps like Hill and Ellsworth cruised to easy victories. On the other hand, there is still some acrimony in the wake of the debacle that was the gubernatorial campaign, and with Pete Visclosky under investigation, there’s plenty of opportunity for division.

I don’t think a strong primary is a bad thing – Chris Bowers and Matt Stoller at OpenLeft have pretty much exhaustively documented how House and Senate challengers selected through a tough primary process are often better-positioned in the general election. But as Indiana showed in 2008, a primary isn’t enough by itself. With Republicans holding all statewide offices, the Democrats can’t afford to be divided. Whether you were a Schellinger or Thompson partisan – or whatever your side in the Myers/Orentlicher/Carson contest – the Virginia example is the one to follow.