Sorry but I’m not going to make any order-of-finish predictions for the city council primary. The headline was just a cheap trick to get you to read this post. I do have some thoughts on the fact that there will be a primary, assuming a few of the 21 individuals who qualified for a position on the ballot don’t withdraw by the ballot-printing deadline.
It’s been so long since there was a city primary that I’m having a hard time determining when one was last held. My own records on this site (be sure to check our our permanent ELECTIONS page for that stuff) aren’t very clear. I’ll do more research and write a future post on the topic. Something tells me that there was a primary in 1999, but the last one that had a citywide impact was in 1995 when a loose slate of challengers who strongly opposed city participation in the construction of an arena and a ballpark, finished in the top nine in the primary. Unfortunately for them, their good performance served as a wake-up call to the poor-performing incumbents and to the very much pro-arena newspaper of the time (which was then under different management, obviously). In the final election, the finish was reversed, the incumbents were re-elected and the ballpark, the arena and other public projects were completed (much to the city’s benefit in my opinion, but that’s another story).
The prevailing wisdom is that a primary favors the incumbents since it gives them a yardstick of how the voters perceive their performance. A weak finish in the primary gives a shaky incumbent time to ratchet up campaign activity and strengthen that candidate’s general election position. But the same can be said for challengers. In my dad’s first campaign back in 1965, he finished in 11th place in the primary which motivated him to work all the harder and he finished 5th in the general election (and was then re-elected 19 consecutive times).
That’s it for now. In the coming days a plan to do a candidate-by-candidate assessment, so watch for that. In the meantime, lets not have any “why spend $40,000 to eliminate x number of candidates in a primary” talk. We’ve been down that road too many times before, and no one has done anything to change the system. Unless you have made a serious effort to make such a change, you’re in no position to grumble now.
Regardless of being a challenger or an incumbent, having the primary will hurt those candidates who have been slow to start their campaigns. If you spent 4th of July mapping out your campaign strategy, you probably blew right past September 24 without giving it much notice. But if you were drafting your strategic plan around St. Patrick’s Day, you’re probably well into your door-to-door canvassing, had a fund raiser or two, lawn signs printed, and are in a position to use the primary for your strategic benefit. If you’re just cranking up your campaign, that September 24 date looms not too far in the future. Sure, if you’re a credible candidate you’ll make the top 18 and continue on, but you may have missed the chance to have an unexpectedly strong finish in the primary catapult you into the top ranks of perceived victors in the general election. That doesn’t guarantee anything; but sometimes perception can become reality.