The real choices have already been made for them. And in many cases, the people who made those choices are the ones we call primary voters. The people making these well-founded complaints tend to be the ones who don't get involved in primaries. By giving primaries a pass, they exclude themselves from many of the most important elections they could vote in, and relegate themselves to second class voter status, left to choose among the pickings left for them by those who did vote in the primaries.
If you ever feel tempted to make the complaints in the first paragraph, pay attention to primaries. You will find candidates you actually like. You will find a broad spectrum of choices. And you can be part of the minority of voters who make the more important decisions: which candidates will be on the ballot in the general election. If you had to skip one, in most cases I'd say skip the general. The primary is usually much more important.
Now I'm going to ramble about three state primaries that are on my mind: Pennsylvania, because it's today; Massachusetts, because I live here and these are the campaigns I'm getting involved in; and Connecticut, which features what I think is the most important election in the country this year. But whichever state you live in, find out when your primary is, find out about the candidates in the major party you tend to prefer, and vote.
Pennsylvania primary, Tuesday May 16th
The race getting all the attention nationally is for US Senate. Republican Rick Santorum is the incumbent, and there are three Democrats running. Whoever wins the primary - almost certainly Bob Casey the son of the former governor - will go on to defeat Santorum in November :) Casey is much too conservative for my tastes. He opposes a woman's right to choose to end pregnancy, which you probably already know if you live in PA, but did you know that he endorsed Samuel Alito for the Supreme Court? I support Chuck Pennacchio. Remember, this is a primary: Vote for the candidate you like, not the one you think will win.
From reading the blogs, I recently learned about Valerie McDonald Roberts, running for Lieutenant Governor. Bloggers I respect in PA all seem to support her. Here's an interview with her on MyDD which has a lot of information about her positions. And I hear she actually has a very good shot at winning.
Speaking of MyDD, one of the founders and lead bloggers there, Chris Bowers, lives in Philadelphia. He's been organizing locally all year, trying to reform their Democratic party. Now he's running for state committee. He needs 100 write-in votes from voters in the 8th senate district (a chunk of Philly).
[Update: Chris Bowers won!]
Massachusetts primary, September 19th
We have quite a doozy of a contest for statewide offices on the Democratic side this year! The Republicans, as usual, have already annointed their nominees and there's no real competition. Democratic incumbents for State Treasurer and US Senate are unopposed, as is Martha Coakely running for Attorney General (she is currently Middlesex County DA). The contested races are:
- Governor: A 3-way race between Deval Patrick, Tom Reilly, and Chris Gabrieli. Any of them could win. Tom Reilly is the current Attorney General, Deval Patrick led the federal Civil Rights Division in the Clinton Administration as Assistant Attorney General (and would be our first black Governor if he won), and Chris Gabrieli is a solid technocrat who was the Democratic nominee for Lieutenant Governor in 2002. I support Deval Patrick.
- Lieutenant Governor: A 4-way race between Tim Murray, Andrea Silbert, Deb Goldberg, and Sam Kelley. Tim Murray is the mayor of Worcester. Andrea Silbert co-founded the Center for Women & Enterprise and helps women start companies. Deb Goldberg was the chair of the Brookline Board of Selectmen. Sam Kelley is a doctor and a healthcare entrepeneur.
I'm still undecided on this one. Blue Mass Group has had some excellent coverage, and is co-sponsoring a debate
- Secretary: Incumbent Bill Galvin, often called the dark prince of Massachusetts politics, is running for re-election. Voting rights leader John Bonifaz is challenging him. I met John last August and we talked election reform for a while, I saw his first campaign speech that fall, and joined his campaign when he decided to definitely run in December. Now I'm his campaign blogger, so visit his site often to read my posts :)
John Bonifaz founded the National Voting Rights Institute, was lead counsel in the fight to recount Ohio in 2004, succesfully forced the Massachusetts legislature to fund the clean elections law in 2002, and is a MacArthur Fellow (their fellowship is often known as the "genius award"). His campaign is my personal priority this year, so I'll post more about him later on.
Connecticut primary, August 8th - the most important election in the country this year.
Joe Lieberman seems like an entrenched incumbent. But he's George W Bush's favorite Democrat, representing a blue state. From all accounts, his antics have pissed off enough CT Democrats and he's vulnerable. Ned Lamont is challening him in the Democratic primary, and is already doing much better than you'd expect from someone challenging such a powerful incumbent.
Strong primary challenges are a very very big deal. They have ramifications far beyond the particular office in question. A strong primary challenge against a strong incumbent, even if the incumbent survives, can have serious behavior-modifying effects on entire legislatures. In 2004 & 2005, a small handful of Democratic primaries for state legislative seats in Massachusetts managed to flip over 60 votes in our legislature on gay marriage, leading to the trouncing of an amendment that had received majority support on its first vote. Only one of those was a successful primary challenge against an entrenched incumbent (there was also a successful primary challenge against a not-so-entrenched incumbent, and a very strong but unsuccessful challenge against another entrenched incumbent), but it sent shock waves through the legislature.
Joe Lieberman trashes Democrats and repeats Republican talking points regularly. He wholeheartedly supports the Iraq war, even today. You may recall his love of censorship from the 90s. Ned Lamont is a great candidate. Watch the video Robert Greenwald made for his campaign.