Primary elections are one means by which a political party nominates candidates for the next general election. They are common in the United States, where their origins are traced to the progressive movement with its emphasis on ridding the political process of corruption. Party primaries may have only one candidate per party, or a number of candidates may enter the fray, setting up a contested primary election, which, in turn, may raise the issue of maintaining party neutrality. That neutrality can be breached when a party moves to make a pre-primary endorsement.
Pre-primary endorsements can be one of two types: an endorsement of a candidate by an individual or an endorsement of a candidate by a political party. When we throw out the phrase “all politics is local”, nowhere is that more true than in the area of candidate endorsements by a political party before a primary. The closer the race and the candidates are to the locality in which the election has a direct impact, the more volatile an endorsement can be.
All political endorsements come with baggage, but none more so than a pre-primary endorsement at the local level. We generally expect pre-primary endorsements at the national level – witness those lining up behind their respective candidates in the Republican primary – and even at the state level, although that can have its perils as well. But taking a pre-primary position at the local level where candidates are personally known can divide party members, trigger issues of favoritism, and lead to a bad taste about politics, in general.
If a primary has more than one contender, then an endorsement is not wise. While the selected candidate may disagree with that position, those on the outside – not endorsed – will feel shut out and disenchanted with the political process. A pre-primary endorsement sets the stage for a division in the party – perhaps not as to whom should be selected but as to the very core of the party’s philosophy of fairness and inclusiveness.
Since I am a Democrat and darned proud of it, I will state I am speaking about my party. We have several contested races, and, it may be that discussions arise as to the feasibility of an endorsement in one or more races.
I am a firm believer in the democratic process and consider myself a Jeffersonian Democrat although President Jefferson and I do part ways on a few points in our philosophical bents. I favor the open and fair process of a primary with no interference by political parties – especially mine. While individual members may contribute in any manner of ways to a candidate, I feel a party endorsement places the weight of the party behind a selected candidate and detracts from our overall democratic philosophy.
In addition, an endorsement relegates those not endorsed into a position of weakness, making their ability to attract donors and attention more difficult. Feelings of exclusion may be felt, and, overall a disenchantment with the party and the political process itself. I have always seen the Democrat party as inclusive, and, in the pre-primary endorsement process that inclusiveness is unceremoniously dispatched.
Our party approach to the primary should reflect our dedication to the principles of the Democrat party by trusting the Democrat voters to select a candidate; that can be done by avoiding a pre-primary endorsement.