A Conventional Way to Pick Nominees

As I assume everybody knows, the Democratic primary for Governor and Lt. Governor is June 9th.  All the candidates are running hard and chasing the last-second votes. 

In the Gov’s race, I think it’s a question of whether Creigh Deeds — ably led by my old manager Joe Abbey — can chase down Terry McAuliffe in the home stretch.  To do so, he will have to carry the 5th, 6th and 9th Congressional Districts by a large margin and fight to near-even in the 4th, 7th and 10th.  Any other victories would be gravy.

The Republicans are choosing an AG.  There are three candidates, one of which (Ken Cuccinnelli) serves in the State Senate.  However, the Repubs are not using a primary.  Instead, they’re having a party convention in Richmond this weekend.

When I first got involved in Virginia politics, I learned about party conventions.  In fact, I attended a few:  Roanoke (1992), Richmond (1993), and Hampton (1996).  From 1994 until 2004, there was no statewide primary on the Democratic side. 

Let’s see the results …

1992, the Dems nominated Bill Clinton (lost in VA)
1993, the Dems nominated Mary Sue Terry (lost), Don Beyer (won) and Bill Dolan (lost)
1996, the Dems nominated Mark Warner (lost)
1997, no convention or primary — all candidates lost
2000, the Dems nominated Al Gore (lost)

While this was happening the Repubs were holding primaries:

1996, the Repubs nominated John Warner (won) and Bob Dole (won in VA)
1997, the Repubs nominated Mark Earley (won)
2000, the Repubs nominated George Bush (won)

This was the time when the state went from blue to red.  (The major exception to the trend was in 1994, when the Republican convention in Richmond selected Ollie North as the nominee.  Needless to say, that’ didn’t go well).

After 2000, the parties switched and the Democrats started holding primaries.  Let’s see how it went:

2001, the Dems nominated Tim Kaine (won) and Don McEachin (lost)
2004, the Dems nominated John Kerry (lost)
2005, the Dems nominated Leslie Byrne (lost)
2006, the Dems nominated Jim Webb (won)
2008, the Dems nominated Barack Obama (won)

The Repubs then switched to conventions, at least in 2001, when they nominated Mark Earley (lost).  There was no contest in 2004 when Bush was re-nominated.  They went back to a primary in 2005 to select Bolling (won) and McDonnell (won).   There was no contest again in 2006 when Allen was re-nominated.   

What’s my point?

Over the past twenty years, the parties which select their nominees by primary generally win in general elections.  That result does not necessarily occur immediately.  For example, it took two years after the Dem primary in 04 for the results to sink in and really be utilized. 

However, by 2006, the Democrats had a much better idea where their potential voters lived and how to reach them.  This process then exploded in 2008, when nearly a million people came to vote for Hillary or Obama.  That list was crucial for organizing the state for Obama in the general campaign. 

Conventions are less costly and limit participation to party regulars.  There are arguments for and against that.  But the record is clear that primaries, in the long term, produce the winners. 

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