(There are no absolutes in politics — or in life. – promoted by mooncat)
Cross-posted from Blue Sparks in Alabama
There's been a lot of discussion around the blogs and among state Democratic activists about Ron Sparks desire to avoid a primary challenge. As discussed in the Sand Mountain Reporter and Left in Alabama:
“The second-term commissioner said the Democratic Party doesn’t need a fight to see who will represent it against incumbent Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Mobile. “He’s going to have enough money to burn a wet dog every day,” Sparks said.”
Ok. So this “burn a wet dog” thing really creeps me out. It must be a Southern aphorism my grandparents didn't think to share, but still. Ick. Anyway, Mooncat's take on this at Left in Alabama is this:
“He expressed a reluctance to enter into a Democratic primary fight with Mobile state Senator Vivian Figures, who is also interested. I don't think this is out of any sense of entitlement, but reflects his genuine belief that a bitter primary fight would doom the winner in the general election, rendering the whole undertaking useless.”
I tend to agree. Primary fights in Alabama can be terrible, bitter affairs that alienate half the base before the nominee is even picked. The most famous example has to be the Graddick/Baxley primary battle from 1986. Why have a primary?
- Candidate seasoning. It gives the candidate the chance to get out in front of the voters, hone the message, and – importantly – show us whether the person is likely to make a campaign-killing gaffe in the general (Macaca, anyone?).
- Basic fairness. Shouldn't the party regulars decide who they want as their nominee? If the party stalwarts aren't with you, chances in the general are slim.
- Running from a challenge makes the candidate look weak. Can't you hear it? “Hey, the guy's afraid of a primary! How will he stand up to ____________ (fill in the blank with your favorite bad guy here).
Why avoid a primary? Now, these are Alabama-specific reasons geared towards the 2008 campaign and take Alabama election laws into account. Yes, it may be a “situational ethics” type of list, but we make those decisions in daily life constantly. Politics is about compromise and if you can't stomach it, you won't last long – especially in the south.
- Nasty primary fights damage the nominee in the general. See above: Bill Baxley.
- Primary fights are expensive. As Sparks rightly noted, Sessions has enough money to…. well…. to spend as much has he needs to (and more). Furthermore, the national GOP will pour money into the race to protect Bush's best bud, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, III.
- Crossover voting. Wow, again, see Bill Baxley! (if you aren't familiar with this particular primary catastrophe, Google it. The details are outside the scope of this post.)
Unlike many states where voters register by party and can only vote in their party's primary, Alabama has no party registration. On primary day, you show up and declare that you want to vote in either the Democratic or Republican primary.
There's a tradition whereby if one party has a “safe” nominee in a high-profile race, the party activists are inclined to vote in the “other” primary to boost the chances of the weakest candidate. Or, as happened in 2006, to boost the chances of the least-crazy candidate (Bob Riley vs Roy Moore).
Vivian Figures has never won a statewide race – actually, she's never even run in one. There will be no serious challenger to Sessions on the GOP side, so there's a distinct possiblity of GOP voters crossing over to make Figures the nominee instead of Sparks.
Not fair, but politics in Alabama is anything but fair. The rulebook is written in disappearing ink down here.
There's no guarantee that Sparks will win the general election, primary or not. But the chances improve greatly if he doesn't blow huge amounts of cash on a primary fight.
I have absolutely nothing against Figures, but she has no statewide experience and has only won in a safe Democratic district. To jump from there to the US Senate, virtually unknown in the rest of the state, low on money, and an African-American woman (I hate, hate, hate it, but it matters in Alabama still), well, it would take a miracle.
I'd vote for her of course, but our chances of getting support from the national Democratic party would sink – as would getting money from out of state activists through ActBlue and other sources. It wouldn't be viewed as a serious race and would give the GOP a pass on spending serious money to save the seat. Every dollar the RNC and RSCC doesn't spend in Alabama can be used to defeat Democrats in other parts of the country. If we don't fight them here, we'll be fighting them in Georgia, Florida, South Dakota…….
We can defeat Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, III and he can go back to selling chicken or something. But it will only happen with a united Democratic party in the state and substantial support from the national party structure. Ron Sparks can do it with a clear field and single goal: defeat Jeff Sessions.