Mike Scala, a Democratic candidate for NY’s 5th CD discusses primary elections; makes numerous sports analogies.
By Mike Scala: When you watch the news, you probably get the sense that all that matters when it comes to a congressional seat is whether it is occupied by a Democrat or a Republican. It’s not surprising: the balance of power in this country is largely determined by which party holds more seats. Additionally, it’s an easy sell to present politics as a sporting event. Right now, the red team leads the blue team 242 to 192. A primary election doesn’t change the score, so the media doesn’t find it sexy. The problem, however, with reducing democracy to a numbers game is that it disregards the players. Congressional approval is at an all-time low because people aren’t satisfied with the individuals who represent us. Instead of focusing solely on Ds and Rs, let’s start looking at who the actual candidates are.
To continue the sports analogy, a primary determines whom each team puts in the game. While a coaching decision may not be as exciting as a slam dunk, it absolutely impacts the result. Jeremy Lin couldn’t have led the Knicks to seven straight wins if he were kept on the bench. The Republicans have more seats in Congress because the Democrats continue to nominate weak candidates who refuse to fight for the people’s needs. It’s astonishing how many times I’ve heard people say, “I don’t agree with the Republicans on most issues, but at least they have a spine.” There are potential all-stars in the Democratic Party, but first we need to be given the ball.
A primary also keeps candidates honest. Most obviously prefer to forego the primary process because it’s one less election they have to win. More than that, though, no primary means they get to ride the party wave with no personal accountability. Many districts are not swing districts. People have their ideologies, and come Election Day they’re going to vote along party lines. A primary forces the candidates to take a stand. It’s easy to regurgitate party talking points, but multiple candidates vying for the same party’s nomination compels nuanced discussion. It makes incumbents defend their records and challengers explain what they’d do differently than others in their party. Without it, there really is no meaning behind who belongs to what party anyway. Candidates could claim the popular party and govern as if they belonged to the other. And that essentially renders the scoreboard meaningless.