Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Long March

Does a long primary battle hurt or help the Democrats? Joan Walsh at thinks it could actually help them.

I was fascinated by the Washington Post’s Dan Balz’s piece […] suggesting that the contentious, sometimes bitter Democratic primary could actually be good for the party.

Where so many other pundits are wringing their hands and suggesting that the increasingly nasty battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton is only helping John McCain, Balz examines primary turnout and voter registration numbers and finds a silver lining for Democrats: Democratic registration and turnout are at all-time highs in many states. The party’s registration numbers topped 4 million in Pennsylvania for the first time in history, thanks to a push by both candidates in advance of the April 22 primary there. Meanwhile, Republican registration actually dropped by 1 percent, to 3.2 million. A Pew Research Center study found that only 27 percent of voters polled identified themselves as Republicans, a drop of 6 percentage points since 2004, “the lowest GOP identification in 16 years of surveys,” Balz says.


Balz also notes that the extended primary season means that Democrats will have hired and trained field organizers and identified voters in all 50 states, a huge asset going into November.

To those of us old enough to remember when party conventions were not just studies in foregone conclusions or four-day infomercials for the over-caffeinated wonks like Chris Matthews, and the California primary in June actually meant something, this lengthy process is a return to the actual purpose of the primary season. Having the candidates anointed before Lent may make it easier for the parties to gear up for the general election, but it leaves a lot of people out and turns the remaining primaries into expensive imitations of elections in Cuba: the vote of the people is meaningless. And while the Republicans are chortling with glee over the battle between Clinton and Obama, they’ll still have to formally nominate John McCain and deal with the fact that no matter who the Democrats choose, they still are stuck with him.