How the long primary battle helps Democrats

Voter registration and turnout are soaring, and the party is training workers and identifying supporters in all 50 states.


Joan Walsh
March 26, 2008 8:05PM (UTC)

I'm traveling this week, which makes daily blogging a challenge, but I was fascinated by the Washington Post's Dan Balz's piece today suggesting that the contentious, sometimes bitter Democratic primary could actually be good for the party.

Where so many other pundits are wringing their hands and suggesting that the increasingly nasty battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton is only helping John McCain, Balz examines primary turnout and voter registration numbers and finds a silver lining for Democrats: Democratic registration and turnout are at all-time highs in many states. The party's registration numbers topped 4 million in Pennsylvania for the first time in history, thanks to a push by both candidates in advance of the April 22 primary there. Meanwhile, Republican registration actually dropped by 1 percent, to 3.2 million. A Pew Research Center study found that only 27 percent of voters polled identified themselves as Republicans, a drop of 6 percentage points since 2004, "the lowest GOP identification in 16 years of surveys," Balz says.

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The picture is even brighter when it comes to voter turnout in the recent primaries, especially in key congressional districts the Democrats need to win, or hold, in November. Some examples from Balz: "In Wisconsin's 8th District, where Democrat Steve Kagen won a tight race in 2006 in what had been a GOP district, 127,000 Democrats turned out for the Feb. 19 primary, compared with 56,000 Republicans. In Ohio's 1st District, represented by Republican Steve Chabot, 47,000 Republicans turned out on March 4, compared with 107,000 Democrats. That last figure represents more voters than Chabot or his rival attracted in the 2006 general election, and 9,000 fewer votes than the Democratic candidate in that district captured in the 2004 general election." Balz also notes that the extended primary season means that Democrats will have hired and trained field organizers and identified voters in all 50 states, a huge asset going into November.

I'm not going to pretend I don't find the Obama-Clinton contest worrisome on occasion. Sometimes it's hard to read Salon letters threads on the primary battle. I'm concerned about reports that as many as a quarter of each Democrat's supporters say they'll vote for John McCain if their candidate fails (although I don't believe it). It's still possible that a nasty race that gets decided, in whatever direction, at the Denver convention would be a disaster for the party. But here's the last word from Balz: "Unless the Obama-Clinton contest turns far nastier than it has already, or ends in a way that seems demonstrably unfair to a portion of the Democratic electorate, the Democrats should benefit from this competition."


Joan Walsh

Joan Walsh is the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America."

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