Ken Plum: Picking candidates in the June 11 primary
In case you have forgotten, Tuesday, June 11 is Democratic Party statewide primary election day. It is a day when Democrats go to the polls to select their candidates for lieutenant governor, attorney general, and if you live next door in Herndon a Democratic candidate for the House of Delegates. The very faithful Democrats will be going to the polls in a vote that is likely to have turnout in the single digits.
Since Virginia does not have registration by political party, some few Republicans may show up to vote in the primary for the candidate they perceive as being the easiest to defeat in November, although there are a few Republican primaries for the House of Delegates. While primary elections are considered to be the most democratic way to select candidates, these elections suffer from little public notice or awareness, low voter turnout, and the use of scarce resources that will not be available for the general election.
Despite the fact that State Senator Ralph Northam and former Secretary of Technology Aneesh Chopra have been campaigning nonstop for months for the lieutenant governor nomination, their name recognition is minimal. The same is true for State Senator Mark Herring and former federal prosecutor Justin Fairfax who are campaigning for the attorney general nomination. All are excellent middle-of-the-road candidates who would serve the Commonwealth well. Although Northam and Herring are my favorites, I could happily campaign in the fall with any of them.
Despite its shortcomings in low voter participation, the primary method of selecting candidates is superior in many ways to the convention method the Republican Party of Virginia chose to pick its statewide nominees. On the Democratic side Terry McAuliffe is the Democratic nominee and was unchallenged for the nomination. On the Republican side, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is the unchallenged Republican nominee by virtue of the fact that Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling dropped out of the race for the nomination when the convention method was chosen for selecting the nominee. He recognized that the most conservative party members controlled the party and would control the convention. Seeing sure defeat ahead, he chose not to run. The wisdom of his decision was clear when the convention picked the most conservative of the seven candidates for the lieutenant governor nomination, Bishop E.W. Jackson, and for attorney general State Senator Mark Obenshain who had just one challenger. Once again a convention with low participation–even less than a primary–picked candidates to enter the general election.
Certainly I think the primary method is the better of the two ways to select candidates. Unfortunately in the House of Delegates races again this year there will be many uncontested elections. While candidates at every level will be working hard to get voter attention, it is important that voters work hard to get to know the candidates. Take my word for it; the choices could not be more stark for the fall election. Virginia is at an important crossroads; voters must be alert to steer us in a progressive direction.
Ken Plum is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates.