If history is any guide, a competitive presidential primary process should be good for the Republican Party as a whole this election year, according to GOP political strategist and CNN contributor Mary Matalin.
“With each contest, more Americans have the chance to cast a vote against President [Barack] Obama,” said Matalin, writing today in a CNN opinion piece
on the continuing battle for the Republican presidential nomination.
Matalin said each primary shoot-out helps voters “become more engaged with the Republican Party” and allows the media to focus more attention on the GOP candidates and their positions, “rather than the empty promises of the Obama re-election campaign.”
“In short,” she continued, “the primaries add momentum and enthusiasm for the GOP as we draw closer to the general election.”
To make her point, Matalin used the 2008 presidential contest between Obama and GOP nominee John McCain as an example.
The Arizona senator locked up the Republican nomination in fairly quick order, but Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton continued to fight it out for the Democratic nomination well into June.
As a result, much of the media and the nation’s attention stayed focused on the Democrats, which Matalin said helped engage first-time voters. The focus was a huge boost to Obama when the general election contest against McCain finally began.
“The country’s attention was on the Democrats, and that propelled them to victory in November,” Matalin said. “Not only did Barack Obama win the White House, but Democrats rode his coattails to larger majorities in the House of Representatives and the Senate.”
Just like today with Republicans, she noted, there was plenty of talk and reporting back then about how a long, drawn-out nomination battle would end up hurting the Democrats.
“But the lesson from 2008 turned out to be this: A competitive primary can strengthen a party,” Matalin said.
The GOP strategist offered the same take on the 1980 campaign, the last time Republicans defeated a sitting president.
“Ronald Reagan did not win the nomination until May 20, but in November he won 489 electoral votes to President [Jimmy] Carter’s 49,” Matalin said.
“Every primary process is unique. There are different candidates, different issues and different circumstances,” she added. “But if history is any guide . . . quick primaries are not always as advantageous as they seem.”
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