Playing Both Sides

During CPAC last week, I was talking with a few folks and one mentioned he was going to vote in the VA Democratic primary this year to help who they thought the weakest candidate against McDonnell was. (I’m sure we all have our opinions) Pondering it afterwards it struck me as a clever and awkward action to take. Clever for political operatives who want to help their candidates get elected in general elections and awkward because it records you as taking an oath of holding up the principles of the party you dislike. But what about candidates? Seems as though AG candidate, John Brownlee, voted in the 2006 Democratic Senate primary between Jim Webb and Harris Miller and only recently joined his Republican County committee last month. Were these calculated risks or simple oversights?

I have no problem with supporting specific politicians you like or agree with regardless of party affiliation but is strategically voting in another party’s primary unethical or simply a natural consequence of Virginia’s lack of party registration? Some blame the voting structure on American Idol for the best contestants often losing in early rounds because sites like help the likes of Sanjaya. Not sure how well this speaks of our political process but at least we get some interesting renditions of Ricky Martin’s “She Bangs”

  • Please do not attempt to take away my rights to vote in primaries. I am an independent and value my right to vote in the primaries.

    There was a Republican out in California that managed to get something interesting passed in California. Everyone would be forced to run in the same primary no matter which party they affiliated with. Then the top two vote recipients would be forced to face off in the General Election no matter what party’s flag they ran under.

    I find this new idea to be interesting. I’m going to watch with interest how this works out in California. I am normally pretty hostile towards California’s leadership, however I am not going to dismiss every idea just because it came from California.

  • I’m not trying to take your right to vote in primaries away. I was asking whether it is ethical to strategically vote in a primary for a candidate you know you are not going to vote for in the general.

  • OK then. I wouldn’t call it enethical (it’s allowed by the rules) but I would call it pretty sneaky and perhaps an extreme calculated risk.

  • EJ

    Little David,

    They do that in Louisiana already. It’s like the French system.

  • Yeah, but in Louisiana and in France they do it different. They hold the General Election and then force a second round if no candidate wins better then 50%. The General Election can be held in your two examples without a winner being crowned.

    There is a difference in what is being proposed in California. The elimination of minority candidates happens in the primaries and then the voters are only offered two choices in the general. On election day somebody is guaranteed to win and no runoff is required.

  • Let me explain how that Republican representative thinks this will benefit California.

    Many of California’s districts are solidly Democratic. Tight races between the liberal and moderate Democrats take place in the primaries with all the Republicans voting for their conservative candidate.

    After the liberal candidate wins for the Democrats in the primaries voters only have the choice between two extremes and because the district is solidly Democrat, it is the liberal Democrat who ends up representing the district in Washington (or in the state’s governmental offices).

    The hope is that after the primary round, the more electable moderate candidate will remain as a viable alternative and that the conservatives will throw their weight behind the moderate when forced to choose between the two. The unelectable conservative extremist will not be available as a choice and the hope is that more moderate governmental representatives will take office.

  • interesting. wouldn’t the easier thing to do be not running a Republican candidate at all? that way the primary between the Democrats is the real election much like it is in DC and the voters treat it as such. that way Republican candidates would not drain the pockets of their would-be donors who could send the money elsewhere in more competitive races

  • Amit,

    Too bad Firefox does not highlight when people keep insisting on starting sentences without capital letters.

    How interesting would it be if in stalwart Republican districts when the Democrat was eliminated as well?

    Look, I am going to proudly admit to trying to further the rights of moderates. Any time us moderates get a better choice in the election I consider this to be a desirable outcome.

  • touche.

    I was just implying that the motivation for changing the California election law could be addressed with much simpler solutions

    curious though, what do you consider a moderate?

  • Amit,

    A moderate encompasses a large swath of the American electorate.

    A moderate refuses to sign on 100% with any party and is willing to vote for the best candidate from any party.

    I will observe that I do not think you are worthy of being described as a moderate because you are a Libertarian extremist from my observations.

  • There is no oath signing at Democratic primaries.

  • DCH

    the California idea is horrid. If you doubt me, look at the results. The bottom line is that it tends to eliminate competition in the realm of ideas – that leads to a watered down system which produces only incompetence and corruption.

    I don’t care if libertarians or independents vote in whatever primary they like… unless, of course, the Party wants only its own affiliates to pick its candidates. In which case they can hold a convention, at least in Virginia.

    But its an entirely different thing when a CANDIDATE in my party crosses over to vote in the nomination process of another party. That is one calculated risk and it just might backfire on Mr. Brownlee.

  • thanks Eileen. I know in the GOP you sign your name that you will support the candidate, etc. of course it is not enforceable.

    LD, you say I’m extreme yet say moderates refuse to sign 100% with one party. on many issues I agree with GOP and some with Dems. perhaps my simplistic ideology of following the law aka The Constitution makes me extreme. I can accept that.

    DCH, the downside of a convention is that the party is unable to get a good handle of likely voters for their party since conventions tend to attract the hard core supporters. perhaps when Brownlee voted in Dem primary it was before he thought he would be a candidate. does that change your mind?

  • interestingly it seems as though Brownlee is in the free and clear. According to the RPV Party Plan (

    Article I, Section A, Part 3 states: “In addition to the foregoing, to be in accord with the principles of the Republican Party, unless otherwise stipulated by the appropriate Official Committee, a person otherwise qualified hereunder shall not have participated in Virginia in the nomination process of a party other than the Republican Party after March 1, 2004, or in the last five years, whichever is more recent.”

    the catch? the plan says this is “[EFFECTIVE ON JUNE 15, 2006]” and the 2006 Democratic Senate primary was held on June 13, 2006. I guess one could argue that the effective date is retroactive to March 1, 2004 but I’m no expert in legalese.

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  • Amit,

    Well that sure sounds like the RPV is attempting to make the Republican Big Tent a little smaller if that means any independent who voted in a Democratic Party primary can’t run for office as a Republican.

    If the Democrats took such a step I guess that would eliminate crossover candidates like Jim Webb from running for office.

    Why stop there? If that makes sense then it should also be reasonable that this potential candidate must have voted for the Republican candidates in each and every general election. And no fair taking the Dick Cheney route of not even bothering to vote at all in some elections.

  • LD, I think RPV is making a justified precaution. at least the way I read it, exceptions can be made with the “appropriate Official Committee”, so someone like Jim Webb or Brownlee could run for office but there is a vetting process. Having voted in another party’s primary is a flag but not a disqualifier.

  • There’s two battling ideas here. One, the party loves those primary lists to determine diehard supporters, and crossover voters ruin that. Two, everyone loves an Operation Chaos.

    I got beat up repeatedly when I voted in Democrat primaries, and I only did them so the idiotic Democrats would send me all their direct mail during elections. I hate party rules that tell you when and where you can and cannot vote. I think it’s a dumb rule.

    And, Amit, yes it’s ethical. I’m an American, and I can vote for whomever I want to and I can change my mind tomorrow without it being an ethics violation.

  • Amit,

    Oh, I thought you were arguing to disqualify someone because they violated party rules.

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  • BK, first off my understanding is that you are a political consultant and have not or intend to be a candidate. for your job, opposition research is a must.

    Although, you don’t have to break the law to be unethical (i.e. Enron). I would argue that you never changed your mind when you voted in the Dem primaries because you knew you weren’t going to vote for them in the General. in any case, I’m not passing judgment so much as questioning the tactic for would-be and current candidates.

    btw, I’m pretty sure there are plenty of Dem operatives that vote in GOP primaries for the same reasons you do the opposite so its not like the Democrats are idiots in this matter and GOP is brilliant. (see scoreboard)

  • Chad P

    “I was asking whether it is ethical to strategically vote in a primary for a candidate you know you are not going to vote for in the general.”

    Why not? It’s no worse than voting for a horrible candidate because he/she is the “lesser of two evils” or because he/she plays for the same political team.

    Ideally, though, Democrats and Republicans (and Libertarians and Greens and Reformers) would be internally funded, private organizations that used their own funds (and not taxpayer dollars) to hold primaries based on their own rules. I’ve never understood why I’m forced to pay into the political food stamp system so two parties can decide who to pimp in the next election cycle.

    Best system? Republicans pay for their own primaries, Democrats pay for theirs… and they privately fund their elections, their primaries, and their $2000 a plate fundraisers.

  • Chad P,

    You as a taxpayer are not forced to fund the elections. You get to check off whether your dollar goes to the elections.

    I never do. I’m not completely against it, but I do not understand why my tax dollar needs to go towards funding it when the federal budget is so out of whack.

    My vote on my federal tax return is for my tax dollar to go towards decreasing the deficit before it goes towards elections.

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