The Impact of a Democratic Primary in 2013

What impact would a Democratic primary have on the 2013 special election for Kerry’s US Senate seat?

The best case scenario for the Republicans would be for Bill Weld to get the nod while Bay State Democrats staged a civil war in which the progressive and establishment factions battled for the soul of the party. This scenario is hard to imagine since the only declared Democratic candidate so far has a very progressive record and has already earned the endorsements of a number of high profile “establishment” Democrats. It appears that any primary to come will be something less destabilizing than a brawl for it all.

If Congressman Markey is challenged by any or all of the folks publicly thinking about it, the primary isn’t likely to be either destabilizing or dispiriting for the Democratic base. In fact, an attention grabbing primary contest might be part of the Democrats’ best case scenario.

No, I have not bumped my head.

The best case scenario for the Democrats might be a high profile primary to choose an opponent for Scott Brown. Such a primary would complicate Brown’s efforts because his chances of winning in 2013, while better than they were in 2012, are still dependent on his ability to make the race about the candidates, not the issues. Brown would have to paint his opponent as an unacceptable candidate early and often. When Labor Day came and went last year and Elizabeth Warren was still viable, Brown’s chances went from slim to none.

In the coming contest (if Brown runs) a Democratic primary that doesn’t damage the eventual winner enough would reduce Brown’s ability to hone in on his target during the primary fight. The compressed calendar of the general election would then make it very difficult to go negative early enough to get the job done in time.

If, on the other hand, Brown takes my advice and begs off in 2013 and Bill Weld gets the Republican nod, then the impact of a Democratic primary on the eventual Democratic nominee would be much less clear.

Regardless, the exaggeration of Republican chances in the 2013 race continues unabated. After obligatory mentions of Democratic advantages, such as their three-to-one registration advantage, media pundits of all stripes can’t resist employing an “all other things being equal” assumption to rationalize their efforts to hype the horse race.

For my part, I am confident that the Republican nominee will be the under dog in the 2013 race whose success would require significant mistakes (think Todd Akin) by the Democrats and/or significant changes to the national political narrative.

About Jerold Duquette

Jerold Duquette is an associate professor of political science at Central Connecticut State University. He is the author of Regulating the National Pastime: Baseball and Antitrust and has published articles and book chapters on campaign finance reform, political parties, Massachusetts politics and political culture, public opinion, and political socialization. Professor Duquette lives in Longmeadow, MA with his wife and four children.
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