Embrace the Primary: Having to choose between good candidates is a win

Two nights ago, the Hingham Democratic Town Committee voted to endorse incumbent Ed Markey in the US Senate primary against challenger Joe Kennedy.

The choice of Markey over Kennedy wasn’t much contested, with the results being 13-1 and one abstention, but a larger discussion was also had about whether the Hingham Democratic Town Committee should even endorse anyone at all. Some worry we will cause rifts too great to heal before November. Some aren’t ready to make a decision in the race. Some believe that the DTC’s role is to help Democrats get elected, not choose candidates. All of these are concerns that I respect. However, I believe that the role of the elected members of a party town committee is to educate voters about candidates and about the electoral process. Endorsing candidates serves both goals.

Black and white photo of two men's arms locked in an arm wrestle over a pile of cash.
Dudes arm wrestling for cash is not a good model for elections.

Many members consider it our duty to learn about and understand, to a greater degree than the average voter, the ins and outs of Democratic politics. We study, debate, and even go to the state Democratic Convention to vote on the party platform. We travel the state, participate in phone conferences with candidates, and meet a variety of candidates and candidate representatives in our volunteer and social activities. (If this sort of thing sounds like fun to you, consider joining us! Our meetings are open to the public, and we welcome new members). As such, I believe that there is a strong collective knowledge among our members about what is happening in government, what each candidate stands for, and which candidates will best advocate for our party platform. We can’t claim to know everything, but I believe that we have earned the right to offer our educated endorsement of the candidate we believe will be the best advocate for the platform of the Democratic party.

Secondly, we want to reach as many people as possible in our effort to educate voters about current races. When we send out press releases to local publications, there will be people reading who aren’t even aware that there is a contested US Senate primary this year. As much of a political news junkie that I am, I long ago accepted that not everyone is. Most people, in fact, pay no attention to primaries. In the 2016 state primary, just 8.84% of Mass voters came out, though 74.51% voted in the November general election. As DTC members, we have to care about that and do everything we can to fix it. Our endorsement press release might not turn everything around on its own, but it will boost the campaigns of both Ed Markey and Joe Kennedy, simply because more people will know to pay attention to the contest. Hingham turnout in the primary will get a bump. Maybe very slight. Maybe imperceptible. But we will do other things to improve turnout as well. And it all matters.

I was happy to see how many people were in the room last night, including a number of people who are not members of the Democratic Town Committee, and how spirited but respectful the conversation was. I am disappointed that we ran out of time before deciding whether to endorse a number of candidates for other offices, but I look forwards to revisiting this issue at future meetings.

Primary campaigns are vital to the care and maintenance of our Democratic party, and I believe our DTCs should embrace the contests. Indeed, it is my dream that we should always be faced with at least two wonderful, intelligent, thoughtful candidates for every office and be forced to choose between them. When we are so blessed, let’s revel in it. Primaries are healthy. Endorsements create opportunities for engagement and education. Let’s count having a contest as a win!

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