25 Sep 2017
We are officially in unprecedented territory with the VA-10 race. Typically, there is only one serious Democratic candidate running, and in some cases, the Republican candidate has actually run unopposed.
The 2018 election, however, is completely different. There are eight declared Democratic candidates, four of which have raised over $200,000 in their first quarter of fundraising. Most people assume that this means Virginia will have a primary, just like we had this summer for the governor’s race.
State party rules, however, do not require that a primary be held. The nominating process for the VA-10 race is controlled by the 10th Congressional District Committee. The committee is made up of Democratic party officials and volunteers. It’s too late to join the committee now - the time to do that was back in February.
According to state party rules, the committee must choose a method for selecting a nominee from one of these four options:
- Assembled caucus
- Firehouse primary
- State run primary
In the past, there hasn’t been a lot of a transparency about this process. The VA-10 race has also been less competitive - so basically nobody cared. All of that has changed now. The committee has brand new leadership and there are multiple compelling candidates to choose from.
The committee held a public meeting earlier this month where the pros and cons of each option were discussed. They agreed to spend the next two months researching the options and getting feedback from their fellow Democrats. A final decision will be made at the next public meeting on November 18.
The Republican Party of Virginia has been promoting a fake controversy on social media, claiming that the committee is going to “take away the primary” in favor of a particular candidate. In Virginia, there is no primary to “take away.” Each election cycle the committee needs to pick a method, and since there has not been sufficient interest in the recent past, there have been zero primaries (of any kind) for the VA-10 seat.
The convention and caucus options are non-starters as far as we’re concerned. We’d like the nominee to be chosen by a majority of voters casting a ballot. No special rules to learn and everyone has a chance to participate. The only reasonable question in our minds is whether there should be a firehouse primary or an official state run primary.
In a firehouse primary there are less polling places than in a normal election. Voters do not vote at their normal polling place in this type of primary. Often times, the polling place is a literal firehouse (hence the term.) The voting hours are also typically more limited, although that is subject to the rules set by the committee. Finally, with a firehouse primary you have the option of excluding Republican voters based on their primary voting history (which primary they have chosen to vote in the past).
Why would the committee would even consider a firehouse primary over a regular state run one? There are two main arguments:
- Control over timing
- Control over who votes
The timing is the most important argument. In a full state run primary, the primary is conducted by the Virginia Department of Elections. Virginia decides the date and that date is already set for June 12, 2018 and it cannot be changed. In a firehouse primary the committee determines the date, so a nominee could be chosen whenever it wants (for example, a full month earlier). The argument is this would give the eventual nominee more time to raise money.
In a firehouse primary, the committee also sets the rules about who is allowed to vote. It would be possible to exclude likely Republican voters from the primary for instance. There have been some recent firehouse primaries for lesser offices that resulted in reasonable levels of participation. A firehouse primary is also the method by which Republicans ultimately nominated Barbara Comstock in 2014.
There are, however, even more arguments in favor of a full state run primary.
- Normal polling places
- Extended hours
- Absentee voting
- Impartial process
The entire Dump Comstock leadership team is unanimous in their support for a full state run primary. We like the idea of people going to vote at their normal polling place and having sufficient time to do it. Absentee ballots are available for people traveling on business or leisure, as well as for those serving overseas in the military.
Most importantly, the process is impartial in both appearance and fact. While we have no doubt that the committee would be impartial in how it conducted a firehouse primary, the outcome may not be perceived as such. There will be only one winner and we will need everyone to rally around the candidate once that person has been chosen. A state run primary is the best method to ensure this happens.
Our thinking has been influenced by our recent experience with the Virginia Governor’s race. The Democrats had two excellent candidates in Tom Perreillo and Raph Northam. Democratic voters turned out in huge numbers to make their preference known. When it was over, Tom graciously conceded. The money spent to win the primary also boosted Northam’s name recognition and he has now caught up to, and even surpassed, Gillespie in terms of cash on hand.
It’s not reasonable to argue that Northam would be doing better right now if only he had won the nomination on May 13 instead of June 13. Northam has had plenty of time to make his case and raise the money needed to run a competitive race. Tom Perreillo and his supporters gave it their best shot but they came up short. In the end, everyone felt good about the process and rallied around the nominee. That’s what we want for the VA-10 race.