Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Importance of Vetting

This week's episode in greater metropolitan Marion, when GOP legislative candidate Randi Shannon dropped out of her race and declared herself "Senator of the Republic of the united States of America," is an important reminder of the vetting process that primary elections are supposed to play. It also illustrates why it's important to make a legitimate effort at every race, no matter how long shot it may be.

Many of the comments on Friday's, er, interesting news could be summed up as "why did the Republican Party let a nut case run on their ticket?" Well, "let" is the wrong word. Political parties are an interesting hybrid beast: part private, part public. There's a lot of possibilities for monkey-wrenching or for unwelcome interlopers.

The party may get blamed, but in the end the nomination process is open and beyond direct control. I've been through a couple campaigns like that; nothing as wacky and wild as a candidate seceding from the union, but one who was screwy enough that those in the know chatted amongst themselves about who to write in. We've worked long and hard since then to recruit candidates for high profile contests to avoid that kind of embarrassment.

If anything, party control over nominations is getting weaker. The first challenges to California's top two primary system have failed, and "open" primaries let independents and Republicans choose the Democratic candidates and so on. (At least in Iowa there's the fig leaf of changing affiliation for the day.)

All Shannon had to do to become the Republican nominee was 1) collect 100 signatures and 2) have no one else run. And the only thing the "party," whatever that is, could have done is find a more legitimate candidate. They had several options, if you recall from the hotly contested nomination convention in this same district for last year's special election. (The funniest thing is, after all the unintentional humor in this story, Shannon's secession HELPS Republicans by giving them a do-over on the nomination.)

Credible "no-chance" candidates in difficult districts are doing the public a service. They allow for an honest and honorable expression of the views of a sizable minority of voters, and they're ready to step in if needed, if the majority party candidate somehow proves to be problematic. They also help races up the ticket, by being one more worker out in the field.

Thorough vetting of candidates is also important at the top of the ticket, as Republicans are finding out now. One of the winners in the Shannonigans story is Mitt Romney, who saw the Bain Capital story pushed out of the news in a must-win state for several hours. Pure Crazy is catnip to us political writers, and Bain is hard to explain.

Or is it? Team Obama wouldn't be pushing it so hard if it wasn't working.

Only a slim segment of the electorate -- we're talking 5 percent or even less -- who hasn't made their minds up. That's so close that the voter ID laws Republicans are pushing may have a measurable impact. In the long run, it's a losing fight against the tide of demographics, but it seems Republicans would rather drown in that tide than move to the high ground.

Leaving that aside, in the fight for the 5 percent, "Mitt sent your job overseas" is an effective message. Negative, sure, but despite all the complaints about "negativity" it works and it works especially well among low-info voters. Bonus: the realities of CEO finance at the nine digit wealth level are too complicated for a sound bite rebuttal.
The clown car of other Republican candidates let their own party down by not thoroughly hashing these issues out in their 74,348 debates. Jonathan Bernstein writes:
There were basically two serious candidates who fully committed to the race against Mitt Romney: Tim Pawlenty, who left early before really getting his act together, and Rick Perry, who started late and promptly imploded. Does anyone think that any other candidate had a serious opposition-research shop and the ability to exploit whatever was there? I sure don't. Rick Santorum barely had a campaign.
Now before supporters of the landslide caucus winner get mad: Yes, Santorum had volunteers on the ground. But he didn't have the kind of professional structure that supports an oppo-research team, or the ad money to get that research out. Bernstein continues:
Newt? Sure, he was supported by anti-Bain Super PAC ads, but I don't think he actually had much of a campaign staff, either. Herman Cain? Michele Bachmann? Ron Paul? Well, Paul did run some very effective attack ads (against Newt, if I recall correctly), but you didn't really need very sophisticated research to come up with Newt and Nancy on the couch.
We usually have a process that can reassure his party that whatever’s out there has probably been uncovered, and I’m not sure that’s the case this time.
Romney faced critiques, sure, but nothing like what 2016 frontrunner Hillary Clinton gave Obama in their epic 2008 nomination fight. Because no one in the clown car had the credibility or the stature of Hillary. Newt did at one time but that time was at least a decade ago.

In any case, friendly advice to Mitt -- not really my job but -- includes figuring out a way to talk about his wealth without slipping into "a couple of " awkwardness. It's probably too late to change that, so expect a lot more focus on it these last four months.

1 comment:

Mayor Fritz said...

Why does the state fund primary elections? It is a party function, but independent voters have to pay for the method for Ds and Rs to come up with their candidate? Doesn't seem fair.

I believe California has switched to a method that is a shade more fair. You run for office, you put your party label next to your name, everybody votes, and if somebody doesn't get a majority, the top 2, even if they are the same party, match up in "the finals".

I think that system would tend to moderate candidates. In the primary system, the true believers are out there voting, which tends to give us hard right, and hard left candidates. More independent voters are not given the chance to vote for someone whose opinions are more tempered.