Sunday, March 14, 2010


Carl Hulse hits some sort of record in today's NYT for...oh, I can't think of anything clever.  It's just a really bad article.

To start with, you know an article's thesis is in trouble when the examples given to support it are examples of...something else.  So, the thesis is: "a string of developments [suggest] that efforts by both parties to anoint Congressional candidates or manipulate the playing field can backfire."  Therefore, the Democrats could be in trouble in the Indiana Senate race, because the Democratic State Central Committee, and not a primary electorate, will formally nominate Brad Ellsworth.

Since Hulse has no evidence that Ellsworth is actually hurt by this development (beyond a plan by Republicans to attack the process, which may or may not hurt Ellsworth if they do actually choose to use that line of attack), he turns to that string of developments.  Alas, while one could make a case for the infamous NY-23 case as supporting Hulse's ideas, the other two he cites aren't about that at all.  The first is that Massachusetts Democrats changed state law to put Paul Kirk in office as an interim Senator -- but actual Senate election proceeded as scheduled, with the Democratic primary voters making the doomed choice of Martha Coakley.  Then he mentions the failure of the Delaware Democrats to convince Beau Biden to run.  That failure certainly appears to be a blow to Democratic chances of retaining the seat, but what it has in common with an alleged backlash against insiders selecting candidates is pretty hard for me to pick out.  The problem for the Dems there is that Beau Biden is seen to be the only Democrat in the state as popular as Republican Rep. Mike Castle, the GOP candidate, not that other strong Democratic candidates were persuaded to pass the race in favor of Biden.  

But that's just the beginning of the problems with this (short!) article.  The basic problem is that Hulse appears to equate "the party" with the formal party organization:
There are other spots where the intrusion of the party has caused trouble, like Florida, where the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s early endorsement of Gov. Charlie Crist roiled conservatives who are rallying behind Marco Rubio, the former speaker of the State House. 
In fact, it seriously misstates what's happening in Florida to cast it as "the party" against outsiders.  What really is happening in Florida, and what happened in NY-23, is a battle within the Republican party between those who believe the party should move to the center to pick up moderate swing voters, and those who believe the party should nominate the most conservative candidate in at least most cases.  Those of us who study party networks are familiar with attempts by party factions, often having nothing to do with formal party organizations, to control nominations.  It's true that in normal circumstances, in most elections in most states, primary electorates formally nominate candidates for federal offices.  In reality, however, primary electorates often ratify the choices of party leaders who are seldom directly affiliated with formal party organizations -- instead, they may be activists, or fundraisers, or politicians, or party-affiliated interest groups, or campaign and governing professionals. 

And anyway, I'm certainly not convinced that recruiting and field-clearing by formal party organizations, by the Hill committees and state or county parties, is a bad idea, anyway.  After all, what we don't hear from Hulse is how the opponents of these "hand-picked" candidates emerged, but in fact I believe that Scott Brown, Mike Castle, and Dan Coats were all recruited, and in the former two cases benefit from clear primary fields orchestrated by, the National Republican Senatorial Committee (Coats has a primary, right?). 

It's also worth mentioning that Stu Rothenberg, who Hulse quotes as saying that using a primary is better, winds up the article by saying that "he doubts that the selection process will be much of a liability for Mr. Ellsworth."  Since Rothenberg is the only expert Hulse comes up with to support his claims, and Rothenberg gives only lukewarm support...well, the examples don't back him up, his expert doesn't back him up, and he gets parties all wrong.

What is this article doing in my Sunday paper?


  1. Maybe the Delaware argument goes as follows:
    The "party" clears the way for Biden in DE, he decides not to run, Dems lose.
    The argument being that, if the way hadn't been "cleared" another quality candidate would have emerged.

    I'm just playing devil's advocate, though; I don't really buy that this potential outweighs possible advantages to "party" selection procedures.

  2. "another quality candidate"

    Such as: who? Give me three names that are pure speculation, or one name with some evidence that the "clearing" actually pushed him or her out (and then he or she couldn't come back in later), and then I'll be OK with it. I just don't believe that Delaware is teeming with awesome Dem candidates who would have ran if it weren't for Beau's non-candidacy.


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