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What the MassGOP Needs: A Bloody Primary

by: Matt_Elder

Sun Feb 10, 2013 at 06:37:20 AM EST

( - promoted by Rob "EaBo Clipper" Eno)

(Writer's Note: When I came up with the idea of this article, the wave of "I'm not running for the Special Election" hadn't yet happened. However, my main premise stands)

The MassGOP needs a bitter, drawn out bloodbath in the US Senate primary for the advancement of the party. We need three or four people, all well known (as well known as Republicans get in Massachusetts) people going at it for a few months with the winner getting 40%.  

Matt_Elder :: What the MassGOP Needs: A Bloody Primary
We need Shaunna O'Connell batting Bruce Tarr battling Dan Winslow battling Sean Beilat. Better yet, we need an "outside" candidate to come in too (I hate the term "Tea Party Candidate," but someone in that category.

At the heart of elections is the age-old question of "are primaries good in the long run for candidates?" I don't think the answer is the same in ever circumstance, but in THIS situation, the answer is an unequivocal "yes."

The MassGOP has been in a stagnant stage for two years. At its pinnacle was Scott Brown's election in 2010, which was the culmination of a half dozen outside circumstances that had nothing to do with the former Senator.

There is no way any argument could be made that the MassGOP is in a better situation today than it was January 13, 2010, and there isn't been any real shakeup since then.

Charlie Baker cleared the field for his gubernatorial run and ended up losing pretty significantly. Same with Richard Tisei that year for LG. The two chairman's races since then was "establishment" vs "insurgent" and after Bob Maginn won handily, it took arm twisting and probably other shenanigans for Hughes to win.

Here is what will happen in a bloodbath of a primary:
Candidates will be forced to give their stance on important issues
Where does Bruce Tarr stand on guns? What about Dan Winslow on abortion? Or Shaunna O'Connell on anything other than EBT fraud? All of these would be answered in a primary season, and it'll get press out about our candidates and these issues.

More attention would be given to "our" candidates and issues
The MassDems have the man power and funds to brand the MassGOP as they please. Every candidate in 2012, regardless of where they actually stood on issues, was labeled a right wing extremist that makes Sarah Palin seem moderate. By sending three or four candidate across the state to promote their candidacy, it'll help bring to light issues other than social issues.

The "divide" will be important
The same members of the MassGOP support the same people. Walking into the chairman's election last week, I could've picked out a majority of Kirsten Hughes' supporters, and I probably could've guesses where the House and Senate Caucuses stood with 85% efficiency.

It's stale, and isn't getting us anywhere. It's time to split the establishment and see who they back in a primary when asked to "compete" for support.

It'll force candidates to broaden themselves and where they stand
The MassGOP is filled with people old enough to be my parent or grandparent. While the MassDems are focusing on issues impacting growing voter blocks like minorities and younger voters, Republicans are being cast as a one trick pony. It's time to force candidates to take a bigger platform (a US Senate run) and discuss bigger issues.

It'll teach us how to campaign again
Look at who leads the Republican caucuses on Beacon Hill. When was the last time Brad Jones went door knocking? When was the last time Bruce Tarr really had to plan a direct mail campaign?

These are the guys who are supposed to lead PACs to get more candidates to run and help fill their caucuses. By getting them out there, forcing them to talk about important issues, it'll help out everyone.

Like I said, when I wrote this, I was hoping for a primary with Kerry Healey or a Romney to battle someone like Winslow and someone else. Of course, anyone who had any type of state-wide name ID isn't running. The point still stands. Get four or five candidates out there and have a bitter primary.

Matt Elder is a political consultant. Follow him @CouncilorElder

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What about lowering the bar? (5.00 / 1)
Here is what will happen in a bloodbath of a primary:
Candidates will be forced to give their stance on important issues
Where does Bruce Tarr stand on guns? What about Dan Winslow on abortion? Or Shaunna O'Connell on anything other than EBT fraud? All of these would be answered in a primary season, and it'll get press out about our candidates and these issues.

A way to get the benefits you describe without the high hurdle of having people run for office is to hold some sort of debates for the sake of debating the issues.  It could could be a full fledged debate with a moderator and an auditorium full of people.  Or it could be as simple as an online chat session or a series of posts on RMG.

MAggregator for local political news

WHY lower the bar????? (0.00 / 0)
Geesh.  Certainly running and debating in a Primary versus ho hum having a debate just for the sake of it will garner much broader interest and participation, and has a much more viable chance of shaking out some clear positions on things as a platform to run on is contemplated.  Bring it on.  I totally agree with a bloody primary to flush out and frame the Republicans' narrative - - - finally.

[ Parent ]
I don't see it that way (5.00 / 1)
Mr. Elder -

I am glad to see some serious thought on this. I will give a serious response.

I don't think the party is healthy or diverse enough for there to be any benefit for a "bloody" primary. So the Democrats have many factions and there are several kinds of Democrats who can win high office in this state. In their primary, different strong groups can argue about what they could bring to a general election. So the 2009 Senate special election primary was a good example. Khazei and Coakley were very different kinds of politicians. Both had views that were acceptable to a majority coalition of voters.

But their situation is nothing like ours. Yes, we do have factions in our party. But it is critical to point out here that most of them do not have candidates in office that represent their views. They are powerful among the activists, not among office-holders or donors.

Let me cover a few examples to illustrate. One faction is the pro-life social conservatives. We have many of them in the activist core, they have an organization or two behind them, and they have some representation on the state committee. Another is the Ron Paul people. There are a small number of them in the activist core (percentage-wise) and they don't really have any representation on the SC. That will probably change. Then we have the Tea Party. They have a large number of members among Republican activist and several different chapters involved in local and statewide politics. They have more sympathy than representation on the SC. That may change also. We also have the MARA crowd. While there is a lot of overlap, they represent an uncompromising view of politics on a variety of issues. They have some representation on the SC. The last faction is what I would call the "moderates" or "establishment" Republicans. These people are either social moderates, or they are conservatives like myself who wouldn't be social conservative candidates out of strategic considerations. They have a lot of representation on the state committee.

Let's take a look at these groups and what success they have had and what they bring to a general election.

MARA and the Tea Party are very involved, yet there is no candidate they have supported who is closely identified with them that has won at anything above the town or county level. If you can name a state rep, state senator, congressman or governor who was a "Tea Partier" or "MARA supporter"" please let me know. These groups also do not have a large donor base. They have groups of small financial contributors that could, in no way, finance a statewide campaign.

The Ron Paul people are relatively new to Republican politics outside of supporting Ron Paul. Do they have any "Liberty" officeholders above the town level? No. Do they have a donor network capable of financing a statewide campaign? No. (But they have a better chance than most of cobbling together small donors to at least give someone a hearing.)  

Then we have the pro-life MCFL people. I am pretty sure they do better on fundraising and candidate support than the other groups. Enough to matter in a statewide campaign? Probably not. What about candidates? They like to mention that there are a group of State Representatives who are pro-life, even though these people mostly do not advertise their views in a general election and do not put these positions on their website. So yes, they have more money and influence on races than other groups, but in a state that is overwhelmingly pro-choice - so much so that Steven Lynch was forced to flip - it is hard to see what they can do in a statewide general election where it is no longer possible to be pro-life. (I hate saying that as a pro-life citizen.)

Then we have "the establishment". These people have lots of big donors and lots of candidates who have won different offices. They bring a lot to the table.

So what will be gained in having these groups fight it out for a statewide election? The MARA people, the Tea Party, and the pro-life people have views that are completely invalid in a general election. Any attempt by those groups to pull a candidate in their direction will only alienate the unenrolled voters needed to win. There is absolutely no upside. It would be like asking Ed Markey to have a debate with members of Occupy Boston. What purpose would that serve for the Democrats other than to alienate the unenrolled also?

The Ron Paul people are a new development. Their libertarian views are something that a general election audience might like, and having the establishment people argue with them might - might - provide benefits.

A few more things....

You spoke about dividing the establishment. OK. But into what camps? My feeling about the establishment people is that they are pragmatists above all else. Can you really divide practical people in a way that will provide benefits? I suppose you could argue that a Gomez-Winslow primary might be beneficial, as there are pragmatic reasons you might vote for either. Again, it would be hard to argue that this would definitely be a help to the party.

Another assumption in your original post is that the media would cover this contest. Would they? I am not sure. They would probably only be drawn in by strong conflicts of ideology. So they would love to cover a Tea Party guy and an establishment guy, as they know there is a conservative/moderate divide that we have. But that kind of fight would probably do nothing but hurt everyone.

That gets me to my last point. As an intellectual, I love to see contests of ideas. But there is no reason to think this will be that kind of contest. Look at the brief contest between the supporters of Bill Hudak and Richard Tisei in the primary in 2012, before Hudak dropped out. Did that seem like it was going to be a healthy contest? Yes, there are some counter-examples, like the Golnik-Weaver primary. Yet even there we saw a lot of bad politics and immature behavior. (And did anyone really think Golnik benefited there?)

I agree with Patrick that there are other ways to highlight a contest of ideas. But a campaign is not about people agreeing to play by the rules. We do need spaces to debate ideas. Ideas that can gain a majority of support. But it is far too likely that any primary contest is going to be about the loyalties of too many activists around views that have been rejected by the general election voting population. That kind of primary will be bloody, as you say. And the wounded winner will limp into the general election, trying to make people forget all the crazy things that were said in the primary. Look no further than the Republican Presidential Primary of 2011-2012. Does anyone think that helped? It was a fiasco.

One day, when we are stronger and have factions that represent majority views, a primary will be a good way to compete to win. But we have too many people in the party whose views will only lead to losing. Fighting with them has no purpose.  

Ed Factor- u just don't get it, we will NEVER get strong unless we start having more primaries (0.00 / 0)
For over a decade, the Massachusetts Republican Party has had the same attitude with primaries: "it's not good to have a primary because we as a party just aren't strong enough yet."

It has been this way for over ten years.  So we need to stop being cowards and not be afraid to run against one another in primaries.

Did it help Scott Brown beating Jackie Robinson in a primary? Yes because Brown got a lot of free media coverage that he wouldn't have if he re unopposed.

Just look at when Kerry Healey ran unopposed in 2006 for the GOP nomination.  That's right, Healey ONLY got 35% and lost by 22 points.

Primaries are good because it gets the nominee ready for the general election and their operations out early.

Even Elder would agree that although Paul Adams got smoked in the general election, by being able to defeat Vispoli for the GOP nomination for State Senate, Adams was in a much stronger position in the general election.

[ Parent ]
You remember this differently than I do. (0.00 / 0)
Did it help Scott Brown beating Jackie Robinson in a primary? Yes because Brown got a lot of free media coverage that he wouldn't have if he re unopposed.

Brown ignored that Robinson existed (and so did the press).  There was 1 debate a few days before the election that no one watched.

MAggregator for local political news

[ Parent ]
jim lyons (5.00 / 1)
Considers himself a Tea Partier and regularly attends the MV Tea Party

Full Disclosure

[ Parent ]
jim lyons (0.00 / 0)
Considers himself a Tea Partier and regularly attends the MV Tea Party

Full Disclosure

[ Parent ]
Just to clear up a few points (0.00 / 0)
Were it not for the Tea Party, Scott Brown would never have won the special election in 2010.  While he didn't identify as a Tea Party candidate, and dissed them/us as soon as he could after wining in 2010, they played huge role in his election. And as we can see, with out them and the activist base (including MARA) he lost in 2012.

Most of the 17 State Reps that won in 2010, we backed by the Tea Party, MARA and other conservative groups Ed. They got virtually nothing from the MA-GOP. Although Nassour and company tried to take the credit for it.

Finally with respect to the "establishment" being pragmatists: The only thing the establishment cares about is making money for themselves. They either want to elect the top of the ticket to be connected to power, which brings them money, business, etc, etc, etc. Or they want their consultant friends to make money off of high profile campaigns, whether they win or lose. These people don't care about the party. They care about their wallets.  

[ Parent ]
And the best way to get a bloody primary? A Steel Cage Match! (5.00 / 2)

Ed Markey is now the official 'cheapest' man on earth.  1.5 percent to charity while the average American gave 3 times as much...

Foxy Proxy Pillow Fight (0.00 / 0)

MAggregator for local political news

[ Parent ]
The problem with Republican Primaries... (2.67 / 3) that your inter-tribal contests are indeed often bloody and the factions do not reunited in the end.  You have to go back to Harshbarger in '98 when it took a couple of weeks for them to unite (and it cost them).  

Around here I still hear bitterness about the Rapport / Healy race in elephants never forget!  Given the level of animosity that currently exists (in the last year, you folks have had some epic battles and there was NO PRIMARY in the mix) having a bloody primary may be the straw that breaks the back for you.

Not to sound like a concerned troll, but it just amazes me when I hear that the reason why you folks are not winning elections is because the party is to moderate.  Now the advice is that we don't win elections because we don't have enough bloody primaries.  Have I thanked you guys lately?

Assface: (0.00 / 0)
   In 2010, we had a Republican primary election for Auditor. That was decided at our convention by less than 5 votes I like to think I had something to do with that by lobbying my town's delegates to change their votes. 3 did. That gave us Republicans an election to attend! Jim Mckenna squared off against Guy Carbone in a sticker/write-in campaign. t5hey received over 36,000 votes. 36,000 voters made a concious effort to tell Marsha Coakley that "Illegal IS illegal" to fair minded people. The New Bedford Town Clerk, Maria Tomasia REFUSED to count a single Republican ballot in the Attorney General race. She considered them "unimportant". Oh yeah, she said that on tape.I think she's going to prison. I think your idol Bill Galvin follows close behind. Galvin will replace Nixon as stupidest candidate ever.
  Yes, you finally got something right. You are a troll.  

[ Parent ]
Having bloody primary does nothing but damage (0.00 / 0)
See 2012 and Romney. Having a lively discussion about ideas and beliefs that captures attention does help.  

Primary YES, Bloody NO! (0.00 / 0)
Primaries can in fact be a very good thing. Bloody Primaries however, can hurt more then they help.

if you recall at the beginning of the Presidential primary season, the candidates did a good job or presenting their positions and they spent most of their time going after Obama.

But that quickly devolved in to  fight in which the Republican opponents were using Democrat talking points against one another.

It's a good idea to for the eventual nominee to be toughened up by some good sparring matches. And it's also good to not have the establishment crown and anoint a nominee.
We've already seen their track record.

But the last thing we need is a bloody primary.

"bloody" (0.00 / 0)
I used the term "bloody" more for the headline. It should be "spirited" (as a writer, bloody works better in the tite!)

[ Parent ]
I too readily adopt the word "spirited" over (0.00 / 0)
bloody.  Poor choice on my part.

[ Parent ]

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