That's the message to Pennsylvania Democrats from state Democratic Party Chairman T.J. Rooney, who on Monday said that, if things seem quiet, it's intentional.
"Our goal in 2010 is not to have a primary," Rooney said. "Our goal is to come together as a party and, in the meantime, let the other side beat the tar out of one another."
In making this proclamation, Chairman Rooney is relying on a longstanding bit of Democratic conventional wisdom. Namely, that closely contested Democratic primaries hurt Democratic chances in general elections. The problem with this theory is that there is no evidence to support it. In fact, a quick survey of the eight most closely contested Democratic Senate primaries in 2006 and 2008 shows that the winners of those primaries actually did pretty darn well in the general election (note: only campaigns where the general election was decided by 10% or less were examined):
Maryland 2006 (Cardin vs. Mfume)
Minnesota 2008 (Franken vs. several)
Montana 2006 (Tester vs. Morrison)
Oregon 2008 (Merkley vs. Novick)
Virginia 2006 (Webb vs. Harris)
Georgia 2008 (Martin vs. Jones)
Kentucky 2008 (Lunsford vs. Fischer)
Connecticut 2006 (loss, but not to Republican)
How is going 5-2-1 possibly evidence that contested primaries hurt Democratic chances in close Senate elections? Further, as a I discuss in the extended entry, polling from these campaigns immediately before and after the Democratic primary also indicates that the contested primaries were a clear benefit for the eventual winner.
Cries of "they stole the election through voting machine fraud" are a pet peeve of mine. To show why, I conducted a study of final week polls in the 42 Governor, Senate and House elections since 2004 that were decided by 10% or less. You can see the report here, and read the methodology here. These were among the findings (more in the extended entry):
Ohio: Columbus Dispatch, 11/03/05: Brown (D) 35%--31% DeWine (R-inc) (note: the final poll from this organization, four days before the election, showed Brown ahead by 26 points, even though he only won by 12%. This poll is conducted by mail)
Pennsylvania: Several polls showing Casey (D) up by double-digits over Santorum (R-inc)
Rhode Island: Brown University, 9/11/05: Chafee (R-inc) 38%--25% Whitehouse (D)
The only 2005 or early 2006 polls I could find for Tennessee were internal releases from the Harold Ford campaign, showing him narrowly ahead but with a huge amount of undecideds. There were no early polls in Virginia.
So, where were Democrats at this point in 2005? There was one clear pickup in Pennsylvania, and nailbiters in Missouri, Tennessee and Ohio. Now, polls already show Democrats ahead in Colorado, New Hampshire and Virginia, while Minnesota is very close. Idaho is even close, depending on who is the Republican nominee. There seem to be more clear pickup opportunities, although two of those do depend on specific candidates who have yet to declare (Warner in Virginia, Sheheen in New Hampshire). However, both runs seem likely, and even if they fail, Democrats are very close in both states anyway.
The main reason for the Democratic improvement is two-fold. First, Republicans have far more seats to defend in 2008 (21) than they had to defend in 2006 (15). Second, four Republican-held seats are now open: Colorado, Idaho, Nebraska and Virginia. All them range from competitive depending on the nominees from both parties, to likely Democratic pickup depending on the nominees from both parties. The open seats have been key, and seem set to make up for the total lack of partisan defectors from the Republican Party following the Democratic takeover. While we may not be getting party switchers, we are getting a lot of retirements, and the prospect of solid Democrats to replace the out-going Republicans.
Now, I now there is a contested primary, and I admit to not knowing much about Mike Ciresi, but I think there are a number of reasons that the progressive movement should back Al Franken in this campaign. Actually, considering Franken's enormous small donor base, the progressive movement already seems to be backing Al Franken, so I am probably late to the party on this one. Still, I wanted to lay out the case for why Al might be the best example of a movement candidate we have seen run for US Senate since, well, maybe Paul Wellstone, who held this same seat until his untimely death in 2002.