President Obama Opposes Contested Primaries?

by: Chris Bowers

Wed May 20, 2009 at 11:00

In his announcement that he wouldn't challenge Kirsten Gillibrand in New York's Senatorial primary, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer indicated that he made that decision mainly to fit with President Obama's wishes:

"In light of President Obama's clear desire to avoid a Democratic primary in New York state, I have decided to focus on my reelection race for Manhattan borough president and to suspend my exploratory committee and fundraising efforts for the 2010 Senate race," Stringer said.

President Obama survived one of the most bitterly contested primaries in Democratic history, which perhaps is a source of his reputed antipathy toward primaries. However, research on whether primaries help or hurt parties in general elections shows decidedly mixed results:

  1. In researching Democratic primaries in recent House and Senate campaigns, David Kowalski and I both found a generally, though not universally, positive effect on Democratic general election performance.

  2. As we all saw in the blogosphere in 2008, divisive primaries can have a negative effect on personal relationships and involvement in political social networks. However, as we also saw in 2008, it can be reasonably countered that while the existing participants within political social networks can fracture as a result of a divisive primary, such primaries can also bring many new people into the social networks.

  3. Most academic research on the subject has indicated that divisive primaries tend to be an effect, rather than a cause, of national party division and / or poor general election performance. That is, unpopular incumbents tend to draw primary challengers, national parties that are already divided tend to have both divisive primaries and poor general election performance (PDF), and divisive primaries often happen when general election victory looks very likely. Rather than causing intra-party division, divisive primaries are usually an effect of some other, more deeply underlying factor.
There probably isn't any universal rule on whether contested primaries help or hurt, because there isn't any universal way in which contested primaries unfold, or any universal context in which they take place.

Still, there are good reasons to recoil from powerful figures within parties trying to prevent primaries. The entire exercise reeks of powerful people trying to protect other powerful people, and one the last thing we need these days are even fewer ways to hold politicians accountable. Uncontested primaries cuts the number of electoral opportunities we have to hold politicians accountable in half, and that just isn't a good thing. I know that I feel personally disenfranchised when primary fields are cleared for an establishment favorite. I'm sure that President Obama would have felt the same way if everyone in the Democratic Party had worked to clear the field for Hillary Clinton.

Chris Bowers :: President Obama Opposes Contested Primaries?

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well if he is going respect Obama's desire for party (0.00 / 0)
annointments we probably weren't getting a good deal with him anyway.

This annointment tendency is yet another reason all the third parties should gang up on the dems and the republicans.

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No judgement (4.00 / 1)
When the establishment has issued the statement there will be no primaries it is hard to fight.  It is expensive and it will be hard to raise money against a candidate that the President clearly supports. I don't think anyone should judge a candidate on their willingness to take on a political suicide mission.  

What concerns me is the trend that Obama is starting that will quell any debate from the Left that should be encouraged in a Democratic Primary.  It stops discourse that is clearly needed at this time.

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Oh thank you, and should we all campaign in a third country too? (0.00 / 0)
Your constant drum of divisiveness has nothing to do with organizing the electorate to make better democrats, it is merely and only an attempt to divide progressive action action.


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

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how do you organize progressives to elect better democrats (4.00 / 2)
if you aren't allowed a primary?

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I support Prinaries! Heartily and often. (0.00 / 0)
I think of it as the opposite and the more progressive version of term limits.

I think we should get in the habit of primarying --to not primary in my opinion should become the odd thing.

Is this the correct spelling for the verb -->primarying?


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

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Then why aren't you angry at Obama? (0.00 / 0)

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Because the quote isnt convincing to me. I dont belive the line Scott Stringer produced, I call BS. (4.00 / 1)
Because no one is going to prevent Sestack from Primarying Spector. Someone might convince him to not run, but thats a different problem.

If we can't get a progressive to run against Spector, one that will be a progressive even when its hard, then how the hell do we get a progressive to run as a third party candiate?

If you can find someone to run without the help of the democratic party coalition, why not get them to run in the democratic party coalition?

WE are bigger and more powerful than I. Until there is an electoral system that directs real power to third parties, as a great number of mature democracies have, as great number of very social and democratic countries have, then I recognoze third party boosting as splitting only.

The electoral system in almost every single district in America is stacked against third parties. The on;ly place for insurgency against accumulated and conservative and money based power is through the Primary.


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

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this is a pact with right and left parties (0.00 / 0)
so the spoiler possibility is out the window.

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I have no idea what this means (0.00 / 0)


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

[ Parent ] (0.00 / 0)

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Yes (0.00 / 0)
the only place where third parties make sense is in districts where either the Republicans or democrats are so weak as to be irrelevant.  See the SF Mayorial race.  Or Vermont.  Perhaps a Libertarian could challenge in Utah.  

Then, you at least have elected officials to build off of.  Left and right third parties amalgamating their 1% support would have absolutely zero effect unless you have some underlying structural ability to enhance competitiveness.

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I heartily agree that primaries are far froma bad thing. (0.00 / 0)
Contested primaries first and foremost bring people in, get people involved and raise energy and commitemnt to to fighting for things you believe in.

The most important thing about all election cycles, beyond removing awful elected officials, is energizing citizens.

We have a very very passive citizenship, who bow and nod and accept the way things are, and do little to make their demands heard.

I have no idea if the administration is putting out 'don't primary' signals. I have not heard of Obama doing this. But remember nothing, let alone the Democratic Party, is a monolithic block. There may be people putting this out.

Primaris are in general a good thing.

We need better Democrats, and we need to fight to maintain Democrats in 2/3's and better in the Senate.

While I have a strong desire for more progressive action, we are moving in the right direction generaly. The way to move accurately to what we need, we a more involved population.


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

Remember ... (4.00 / 1)
they are trying to clear the field for Snarlin' Arlen as well .. we'll see if they eventually get to Sestak or not

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The Party is not a monolith. It is a coalition. And then there are voters. (4.00 / 1)
Some people didnt want Lieberman primaried either. While he was not removed, he will be the next time round. If anything Lieberman proved you have move early, and you have to have an issue.

The voters could care even less about the 'effects' of primaries on e day. What matters is what happens in the meantime.

We have let people 'suggest' and direct how we run the country for far too long.


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

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Well .. to be fair ... (0.00 / 0)
Lamont went on vacation right after the primary victory .. instead of twisting the dagger .. and once he let HoJo off the mat .. he didn't recover

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Nobody Wants To Take On Annie Oakley? (0.00 / 0)
I could not for the life of me understand why Gov. Paterson chose Annie Oakley, an upstate gun-loving barrel-sucker, to be the Senator for New York State to replace Hillary Clinton.  Unless, of course, he did it as a favor to the Clintons, who were hell-bent on taking out their enemies -- anyone who opposed them and supported Obama in the primary -- with the top spots on that enemies list going to the Kennedys, Ted and Caroline.  

Caroline Kennedy would have been a much better choice, and her experience and qualifications exceeded those of Hillary when she got the position.  Caroline, like Kennedy, had not held elected office, but she also had devoted her life to supporting and promoting the traditional liberal causes of her family, unlike Hillary whose devotion was to Wal-mart and the S&L con men of Arkansas.

If Caroline had been appointed, for example, she could have raised money to campaign from across the nation.  She is a traditional liberal, and that would be an important addition to D.C., where the word "liberal Democrat" now apparently means "corporate-loving vote-selling traitor."  

I hope somebody takes on Annie Oakley and knocks her out of the race.  I wish Caroline would run against her and kick her butt.  But if not Caroline, there must be somebody out there who is actually a liberal, willing to take on Annie Oakley for this important seat in the Senate.

She is an Obama democrat (0.00 / 0)
and part of the bloomberg machine, which means she is probably little different from Hillary.

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Bitter? (4.00 / 1)
I don't see the Clinton/Obama fight as Bitter. Hard fought yes. Actually it is because we ended up with two candidates who didn't let their supporters get out of hand that the fight generated a broad enthusiasm right until the end. Sure the echo chamber in the media and online highlighted the differences and conflicts, the broad consensus and joint values of the two candidates still showed through. Both candidates where very successful in turning the Anti-other feeling into pro-me. By in large people voted in support and not opposition in the primaries.

And that is the key to future primaries. Hard fought yes, Bitter no.

One aspect of a broad based small donor financing is the ability to enforce some comity. A candidate goes to far, withhold support or give support to an opponent.  

It was bitter but most of it came from (0.00 / 0)
psudo corporate and neocon democrats like lady Rothschild.

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President Obama can go jump in a lake (4.00 / 2)
Even if contested primaries hurt the Democratic party, considering what a HUGE problem unaccountability is, the last thing that President Obama would encourage is non-contested primaries (I mean in general), if he was interested in reform.

So, Mr. Hope and Change comes seems like quite the hypocrite, again? Imagine my surprise.

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If I said Obama told me not to vote anymore would you belive me? (0.00 / 0)


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

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