Primary Numbers

Primaries wear out the candidates and the voters before the elections


| February 12, 2004


In earthy language, Ian Williams pinpoints why the primaries leave such a rancid taste in the mouths of voters. 'A Democratic presidential primary contest is like a tapeworm, long and with no conclusive ending, copulating with itself all the time, but with no real climax -- except that the results tend to come out covered in crap,' he writes.

The problems with primaries are many, according to Williams. In certain 'open primaries' like Georgia's, anyone can vote regardless of his or her party affiliation, giving cross-party voters the ability to mobilize and derail a campaign to the benefit of their own racehorse. A primary candidate has been run through the wash by his competitors before the real election even begins, giving President Bush, for instance, time to get into position and deliver a fatal blow to the already ailing donkey. Worst of all, Williams points out, primaries actually open the floodgates for candidates to be purchased. Bill Clinton was in no position to win the Democratic nomination in 1991, (and two successive terms in the White House) until he artfully began tapping the checkbooks of key supporters in the New York primary.

The primaries' slide into checkbook politics is ironic, for, as Williams reminds us, 'the original idea of primaries was to take politics out of the smoke-filled rooms of the party bosses, where as Tammany Hall's Boss Tweed once said, 'I don't care who does the electin', so long as I do the nominatin''.'

Williams leaves us with a zinger: 'Republican presidential candidates traditionally outspend Democrats. But if you added up all that money raised for Democratic primary contenders, and put it against Bush, it would certainly outweigh even all those Halliburton checks. But they'd rather spend it on fighting each other.'
-- Jacob Wheeler

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