Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 21, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

CALIFORNIA GOP SHOOTS SELF IN FOOT....FILM AT 11....California has a semi-open primary. Each party gets to decide whether its primary should be open or closed, and this year the Democratic primary is open while the Republican primary is closed. Democrats are licking their chops at the prospect:

"Republicans have made the serious, perhaps fatal, error of shutting independent voters out of their primary," said Garry South, who was a top advisor to former Democratic Gov. Gray Davis. "The thing we know about independents is, when they choose to vote in a primary, they tend to stay with that party" in the general election.

Interesting, no? In the presidential race I don't see how this will really make a difference, since even Republicans concede that California and its electoral votes will go Democratic this year regardless. But it might make a difference in one or two congressional close districts, couldn't it? Or at the local level? And certainly in the long term it could alienate even more independents from the GOP and increase Democratic control of the state legislature. The California Republican Party, with its usual genius for snatching defeat from the jaws of whatever it had before, may be letting a dedication to purity consign it to the ash heap of history.

(On the merits, by the way, I think the Republicans are right: if you want to vote in a party's primary, you should belong to the party. But whoever won on the merits?)

Kevin Drum 11:29 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

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Comments

This has to be a huge advantage for Obama, right?

Puts his comments about the Gipper in a different light.

Posted by: john on January 21, 2008 at 11:42 AM | PERMALINK

South's a sharp guy, but if there's negative impact, it would have to be *really* long term.

Remember, all the CA Legislative and Congressional districts are so heavily gerrymandered, it's almost impossible for either party to lose more than a couple. And the Democrats will almost certainly win all the statewide races anyway...

Posted by: RKU on January 21, 2008 at 11:45 AM | PERMALINK

Why would independents who were inclined to vote for Republicans still vote for a Democrat when given the opportunity, just because they voted for a Democrat in the primary?

Posted by: Grumpy on January 21, 2008 at 11:46 AM | PERMALINK

(On the merits, by the way, I think the Republicans are right: if you want to vote in a party's primary, you should belong to the party. But whoever won on the merits?)

Maybe, but there are a couple reasons why parties might want non-members to vote in the primaries. For one thing, there's what you mention right there that independents who vote in the primary, tend to stick with it in the general.

But also, bringing in independents who lean in your direction that is, people with mostly the same principles and beliefs as you but fewer partisan blind spots* is probably the best way to judge electability. It kind of has to be a consideration, or else your guy isn't going to, you know, get elected. But committed, lifelong partisans are in the worst position there is to judge a candidate's appeal to the general public, because by definition they're different from the general public on just that topic. So getting some leaners and low-information voters and people with a set of beliefs split between the two parties would result in more support for candidates who could win the general election.

* Of course this begs the question that the independents you get would actually lean in your direction, but anyways.

Posted by: Cyrus on January 21, 2008 at 11:49 AM | PERMALINK

I think it's time we started to reevaluate the power that the two major parties hold over the way we choose our leaders. The process we are engaging in is the preparatory phase of choosing the President of the United States. Why should so much power be concentrated in the hands of a few (actually very few) people? the Democratic National Committee has already disenfranchised the people of Michigan and would disenfranchise one-fifth of the California electorate if the primary were to be closed. The DNC has chickened out decade after decade in making the order of the primaries into a fairer process (that's why everybody else is going on Feb 5, instead of having some rotation that might have put Oregon first this time, Missouri first the next time, and so forth). As one of your readers pointed out several weeks ago, we should treat this long process as an integral part of the election rather than the doings of private groups.

One clue: Why should there be "superdelegates" at all? Such delegates are the hacks' hacks, politically speaking, and when they are governors instead of hacks, they are at best unelected as representatives of the peoples' wishes with regard to the selection of a presidential candidate.

Posted by: Bob G on January 21, 2008 at 11:55 AM | PERMALINK

Obama has been deliberately courting independents and Republicans, by asking them to "be a democrat for a day." This is just the cleverest idea. Remember, once a person crosses a threshold, it is much much easier to do so again. He is getting them to pull that "Democratic trigger" one time, and the next time out, they might do so again. He loses nothing, and possibly gains a huge number of new voters. Hillary-bot morons, who are mostly quite stupid, are all complaining that this dilutes the "purity" of Democratic voting, and that we should not allow non-Democrats to choose the Democratic nominee.

If you vote for a Democrat today, you might become a Democrat tomorrow.

It's tremendously clever, and demonstrates how innovative and forward-thinking Obama is. Hillary is stuck in the thinking of the 1990s.

Posted by: POed Lib on January 21, 2008 at 12:15 PM | PERMALINK

The purity Kevin speaks of here involves California Republicans' intense dislike of having to associate with people belonging to groups they may want to campaign against at some point.

Though they are frequently pleased to describe this in terms of ideological conviction, it is more correctly seen as an expression of alienation. California Republicans as a group would much rather complain about things, and about other Californians, than take a serious part in governing -- something they have been advertising to all the world for years now. They are hardly the only group in the United States with this kind of attitude, but it isn't hard to imagine that a younger Ronald Reagan wanting to run for public office in California couldn't get his own party's nomination. He had all these union connections in the entertainment industry, you see, plus he used to be a Democrat.

Posted by: Zathras on January 21, 2008 at 12:17 PM | PERMALINK

Mexifornia isn't part of the U.S., is it?

Posted by: Luther on January 21, 2008 at 12:18 PM | PERMALINK

Uhh, Kevin you might want to really think about why this was done. This is a huge anti-McCain move. McCain doesn't win among Republicans. He only wins when no-Republicans are allowed into the process.

Posted by: Rob on January 21, 2008 at 12:23 PM | PERMALINK

Shouldn't this be a big problem for McCain, who is loathed by "real" Republicans and beloved by independents? I hope? Please?

Posted by: Grouchy on January 21, 2008 at 12:24 PM | PERMALINK

On a purely legal basis, I agree that party nominating processes ought to be for members of the party. But for me, that presupposes having more than two parties, and more of a parliamentary system.

Our parties are sort of like ABC and NBC. They program differently, but you can always change the channel. You can be a Democrat today and a Republican tomorrow if you feel like it (or a "Democrat for a Day"). But opening the primary allows for mischief as well (trying to get the other party to nominate a loser).

I don't have an answer, really. All I really want is a better media...

Posted by: zmulls on January 21, 2008 at 12:27 PM | PERMALINK

Bad for McCain. Possibly quite good for Obama.

Posted by: Ted on January 21, 2008 at 12:38 PM | PERMALINK

I posted my thoughts on this on DailyKos (evolushawn.dailykos.com). I agree that California's primary system could really help whoever the Democratic nominee is by preventing independents from voting for McCain. McCain is the only Republicans who stands a chance against a Democrat, and without support from Independents, he's dead in the water.

Posted by: shawn on January 21, 2008 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

Rob is right on the money here: this is a move designed by institutional GOP'ers (I know, I know, they all should be institutionalized) to shut McCain out in favor of ... well, at this point, it'd have to be Romney, I guess? If Frederick of Hollywood finally drops out, Huckabee could consolidate a pretty large proportion of the inland GOP vote.

Posted by: The Confidence Man on January 21, 2008 at 12:40 PM | PERMALINK

I'd have to second what a couple of people upthread said: this is really just a way to freeze out McCain in favor of Romney or Giuliani. Diehard California Republicans are basically obsessed to the point of derangement with two single issues: lowering taxes and illegal immigration. Whoever promises to expel all illegal immigrants, legal immigrants, anyone ever related at any time to an immigrant, past or present, or who even just looks a little different than John Wayne, all while eliminating taxation forever, gets their vote.

Posted by: jonas on January 21, 2008 at 12:41 PM | PERMALINK

It is a good thing Arnold, Reagan or Duke is not on the Democratic primary ballot in California.

Posted by: Brojo on January 21, 2008 at 12:42 PM | PERMALINK

In Massachusetts primaries independants can choose either ballot (R or D). This changes your party affiliation, but then you can immediately fill out a form to change it back to independant.

Posted by: esaund on January 21, 2008 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

It will very interesting to see how many independents, used to being able to vote in CA Republican primaries, will be surprised when they walk into the polls on Feb 5th and they're told they can't do it this time. I'm sure many,many of them aren't aware of the change (I wasn't aware until the esteemed Lionel Hutz set me straight in a comment thread last week). I'll try to remember to report back here the next day.

Posted by: Robert Earle on January 21, 2008 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

obamaw will take on work

Posted by: Grisey on January 21, 2008 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

oops, that should read:

obamaw will take on work

Posted by: Grisey on January 21, 2008 at 12:56 PM | PERMALINK

Mexifornia isn't part of the U.S., is it?

It wasn't until the invasion and occupation of 1848. Too bad there weren't IED's back then.

Posted by: Hidalgo's Head on January 21, 2008 at 12:59 PM | PERMALINK

As a non-affiliated Californian (Deline to State, and damn proud of the lack of junk mail it get me), I see no reason why what are, basically, private institutions (political parties) should have a right to use publicly funded elections to decide their private matters (choosing a candidate).

If the parties want to use state-financed ballots, then they should be subject to open balloting. If they don't want open balloting, they should pay for their damn elections themselves.

As for the Democrats, if they had any candidates I thought would be better than mediocre, I would have asked for a Dem ballot this year. But Edwards is running a weak campaign, I'd just as soon elect Joe Lieberman to the White House as Hillary, and I haven't joined the Cult of Barack Obama (and he hasn't staked out any compelling platform positions). So let 'em nominate whoever the hell they want, and I'll probably go ahead and vote for them (on the usual "lesser of two weevils" basis) in November. I just wish I didn't have to fund their little tiff in February.

Posted by: Cap'n Phealy on January 21, 2008 at 1:17 PM | PERMALINK

"The thing we know about independents is, when they choose to vote in a primary, they tend to stay with that party"

It wouldn't surprise me if this were true, but ... do we know this? And if so, how?

Posted by: RonK, Seattle on January 21, 2008 at 1:17 PM | PERMALINK


(On the merits, by the way, I think the Republicans are right: if you want to vote in a party's primary, you should belong to the party. But whoever won on the merits?)

I disagree. more and more people are disenfracnhised by the political process and have given up parties all together. You're asking them to support candidates that come from extreme branches of both parties. So then they stay home. That's why so many people are apathetic about the political process.


Posted by: lou on January 21, 2008 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

As one who had been a lifelong independent until the rethugs became so over-the-top evil. I think I have some insight into the thinking of the more centrist part of the population. We have always felt unwanted, as we could never accede to the basket of beliefs/delusions held by either party. On top of that, we may have less voting power -as we often are excluded from primaries. This whole process has led a disproportionate number of centrists to become alienated from the political process, leading to an increasingly partisan atmosphere, as the true believers of either party battle it out. I would note that perhaps the low participation of younger americans might be an indication that they see through the shallowness of joining and accepting the belief systems of either party, and are turned off from the whole process.

Posted by: bigTom on January 21, 2008 at 1:29 PM | PERMALINK

People are independents because the parties have very little differences on policies. Both parties want to keep spending trillions for useless defense care, will keep funding Israeli expansion, will continue to send welfare to keep the finance industry solvent and do whatever is in Exxon's best interest. Independents should stay away from the two parties and vote for third party candidates.

Posted by: Brojo on January 21, 2008 at 1:36 PM | PERMALINK

Diehard California Republicans are basically obsessed to the point of derangement with two single issues: lowering taxes and illegal immigration.

The only thing that saves our California Democrats -- most of whom are useless "centrists" like Feinstein -- is that the Republicans are so openly insane that they frighten people off.

It was, frankly, suicidal for a Republican candidate to run for governor of California on a pro-life platform, pledging to ban abortion in California. That made everyone run to vote for Gray Davis, who was about as exciting and innovative as his name.

Posted by: Mnemosyne on January 21, 2008 at 1:37 PM | PERMALINK

As a non-affiliated Californian (Decline to State, and damn proud of the lack of junk mail it get me)

How the hell did you manage that? When I was Decline to State, I was flooded with Republican junk mail before every election. Registering as a Democrat actually lessened the flow.

It also helped that someone at Democratic headquarters was smart enough to realize that two people living at the same address could be sent a single flyer with both names on it, so that cut everything in half.

Posted by: Mnemosyne on January 21, 2008 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK

if you want to vote in a party's primary, you should belong to the party

most Californians probably see it more as their state's primary rather than a party's primary. that's how it should be anyway.

Posted by: Bend on January 21, 2008 at 1:51 PM | PERMALINK

"most Californians probably see it more as their state's primary rather than a party's primary."

And with the number of propositions (ONLY seven this time!), it actually IS at least as much the state's primary as a party's primary.

Posted by: Robert Earle on January 21, 2008 at 2:16 PM | PERMALINK

For whatever it's worth, I've never seen anything in the political science literature which finds that independent voters tend to stick with the party they chose in a primary.

Posted by: Arr-squared on January 21, 2008 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

"Why would independents who were inclined to vote for Republicans still vote for a Democrat when given the opportunity, just because they voted for a Democrat in the primary?"

Just on a human nature basis, I would think that when you decide to vote for someone, you sort of "buy in" to that candidate. Assuming the candidate an independent voted for actually became the nominee, I would expect it would take something big to get beyond that "buy in."

This also assumes, and I think I'm right in the assumption, that most voters really don't think very deeply about issues but vote personalities and feelings, like who they'd like to have a beer with.

Posted by: Cal Gal on January 21, 2008 at 3:51 PM | PERMALINK

If Obama has to have independents and Republicans to get the Democratic Party nomination it only shows he isn't a true Democrat and he couldn't get elected just by Democrats and he shouldn't be the nominee of the Democratic Party.

Hillary...ugh.

John Edwards might possibly be a complete phony, but at least he's saying the right things consistently and that's better than the alternatives.

John Edwards for President -- Phony Leadership for a nation of phonies phakes and phrauds!

Posted by: MarkH on January 21, 2008 at 5:13 PM | PERMALINK

How the hell did you manage that? When I was Decline to State, I was flooded with Republican junk mail before every election. Registering as a Democrat actually lessened the flow.

Uh,...clean living? Nah.

I don't know, I just know that I've always been registered DtS, from the day I turned 18 (yep, I was one of those "Turning 18 means I can vote!" nerds, mainly because I'd never had a problem getting cigarettes, the other big event when one turns 18*), and I've never gotten much political junk mail. In fact, iirc, almost all of what I do get is related to propositions, not candidates.

*Yes, I've quit smoking. Get off my back, health nazis!

Posted by: Cap'n Phealy on January 21, 2008 at 6:55 PM | PERMALINK

Decline to states get to vote in closed primaries. The idea is that you can join and leave any party at will -- and in fact you can be in both. But you can only vote in one primary, per statute. Independents are saying that they are not a member of any party. Decline to states are simply not saying. So when us DtSs go to the primary polls, we can pick any ballot we want, usually without restriction (some years one of the minor whackjob parties will restrict voters to exclude decline-to-states.)

And we get less mail.

Posted by: James on January 21, 2008 at 11:24 PM | PERMALINK

Anecdotal Rebuttal: In 2000 I voted against Bush twice.

Posted by: Don't blame me on January 22, 2008 at 6:00 AM | PERMALINK
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