Sunday, September 27, 2009

Is it a problem when the party decides?

There are lots of interesting things in today's Denver Post story about the Democratic Party's efforts to protect Sen. Michael Bennet from Andrew Romanoff's primary challenge. But what struck me in particular was the claim that voters push back when a party tries to force a nominee on them.

The article lists several recent instances of the Obama White House taking sides in upcoming nominations battles, including its public attempts to push NY Gov. David Paterson aside and to get former VA Gov. Douglas Wilder to endorse a gubernatorial candidate. And then we hear this:
"It may make the situation worse for Bennet for them to play the game this way," said state Rep. Kathleen Curry, a Gunnison lawmaker who is supporting Romanoff.

"People in Colorado have an adverse reaction to the external forces coming down and telling them how to think," she said.
We heard these same sorts of claims a few weeks ago when it appeared that the NRSC was pushing to make Jane Norton the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate seat.

So here's a question: do voters ever push back? Think about some other recent examples of state or national party leaders trying to pick nominees before primary voters had a chance to weigh in:
  • In the 2004 U.S. Senate race, the Democratic Party pushed Ken Salazar over Mike Miles, while Republican leaders pushed Pete Coors over Bob Shaffer.
  • In the 2006 governor's race, Democratic Party leaders converged quickly around Bill Ritter, forestalling other challengers. Marc Holtzman spent a lot of money and energy to deprive Bob Beauprez of the Republican nomination, but the party had essentially frozen him out.
  • Last year, the Democrats pushed Mark Benner aside to protect Mark Udall's hold on the U.S. Senate nomination, while Republicans invoked "Rule 11" to guarantee Bob Shaffer the slot.
In all these cases, the passed-over candidates pushed back, but it's hard to find any evidence that voters did. Indeed, how would they? Republican voters still managed to vote for their party's nominees, and Democratic voters did the same. Meanwhile, I know many Democratic activists who are pulling strongly for Andrew Romanoff and still love Barack Obama, despite the latter's messing with the former's life.

The lesson: Romanoff faces a very tough race. He could still win the nomination, but if he does, it won't be because Colorado's Democratic voters are angry at party leaders for meddling with the race.

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