The responses to my post on conventions are interesting and on point. Conventions do eliminate the risk of crossover voting, they do keep the process in the hands of party loyalists, and the costs are generally less than a primary. All true.
But is all this worth the cost in terms of name identification and general ill will toward a candidate or his/her supporters? Most important, a convention/mass meeting process (hereinafter C/MM) presents a multitude of ways to subvert the will of participants, to miminize their input, or to keep activists from participating. Is it worth the cost? Is it worth choosing a nominating method that creates too many opportunities for one faction to prevent another faction from even participating? I think not.
That said, I do favor conventions when there is a need for a special election. Then all the party building and motivating aspects of a convention really come to the fore. The 50th district contest in 2006 is a perfect example of how a C/MM can be used well. A GOP convention was held, two strong candidates emerged, slugged it out nose to nose, and the party emerged in one piece to mount a strong campaign to hold a GOP seat in a year that was toxic to GOP candidates.
Win a primary, and the process allows candidates to build name ID. C/MM are typically held over a long time period, and papers do not cover them the same way-name ID is not developed as well. Some suggest that there is more of a possibility for ill will to develop toward a candidate in a primary than in a convention. The difference is that in a C/MM the ill will is toward other activists, and then against their candidate. It is one thing to be upset your guy lost-people will get over that. It is another thing totally when the same activist who called you and “ignorant, pig-headed bum” then calls you to work the phone banks after your guy loses. Unsure on that count? Trust me…I have seen it happen.
So, if the process is being run as one stop shop (like the 50th), you already have plenty of room for dissension, hurt feelings, and general sowing the seeds of defeat. Oh, and given that you have staff and mailing and entertainment expenses, the process is not as inexpensive as one might think. But there is potentially more…what if the process is set up with local mass meeting electing delegates to a congressional, or statewide, or even state senate convention?
Given that I was a young adult during the golden age of GOP conventions, I volunteered on a lot of campaigns, and I got to see a lot of stuff. I can tell you from personal experience that the potential for upsetting folks is vastly larger in a C/MM setting. It goes beyond personality, it goes beyond ideology, and it goes beyond winning and losing. It goes right to the ability to participate-another way it is less favorable than a primary.
First, you have to file to be a delegate. Repeat, you have to file to be a delegate. Primary-if you are registered to vote, you vote. In a C/MM, if the credentials committee finds a way to bounce your delegate candidacy, and it is upheld, then you cannot participate. Doesn’t happen often, but it can and does.
Next, once you have been deemed eligible you have to be elected a delegate to vote at the Convention or mass meeting (the latter typically is the term when you are selecting delegates to move to another level, say from county to a congressional or statewide convention). If you are in the minority, you-a party activist, who works the polls and makes the phone calls-may be denied a chance to be a delegate to the next level…and if things get rough, maybe even at the local level. This process of only denying supporters of a lesser candidate to be delegates is called slating…and it gets folks angry. Having been slated off once or twice, I can attest to the anger from personal experience.
Finally,there is the more insidious practice of “instruction”. In this practice, the majority at the mas meeting instructs the delegation to vote 100% for a candidate, no matter what the composition of the delegation. So, imagine the following scenario:
District 2501 has six counties. County A is by far the most GOP, and the most populous, and has 55% of the population for the district. Because County A is the most populous and the most GOP, it actually casts 60% of the vote in the convention. Delegates are selected in a local meeting. John Doe and Jimmy Smith want the nomination, and Doe is a narrow favorite in County A. Doe’s backers constitute 51% of the voters in the county mass meeting…they can, with their bare majority, instruct the county delegation to vote 100% for Doe. Smith takes all the votes in counties B-F, but loses because of the instruction.
Those who discount that this can happen should look the Obenshain nomination fight in 2003. Instruction does take place.
My esteemed colleague TMC says in support of conventions that “For me, there is something positively American about wheeling and dealing in a convention.” He may be right. But convention wheeling and dealing was always about pure, bold power and getting a nomination. It is brute force, and if one has to resort to any of many legal means to prevent people from voicing their choice in order to get your man nominated-then you do it. It is the nature of a convention, and the cost is too often disenfranchised delegates who go on to become disinterested party workers in the fall.
Conventions are more romantic, more interesting, and more colorful…they are also potentially far more divisive and destructive. There is too much risk of people legally being kept from participating.
In places like the 28th, there is too much at stake…a primary should be used.
Thus endeth the lesson…