Primary Responsibility

Primary Responsibility
Choose now or have no choice later.

By Jeff Knox

(May 16, 2014) Primary season is in full swing and most of America hasn’t even noticed.  Primaries have already been conducted in some states and are imminent in many more.  Primaries are the single point in the electoral process where you have the most influence and your vote has the most leverage.  During the primaries, not only do relatively few voters participate, but because there are often several candidates for a given office, the votes are spread out, meaning that a very small number of votes can make the difference between winning and losing.  Some states run two-stage primaries, holding a runoff between the top vote-getters if no one receives better than 50% of the votes cast in the first ballot.

For some unfathomable reason, the National Rifle Association does not grade or endorse candidates in contested primaries.  This often contributes to really good, pro-Second Amendment candidates being narrowly defeated, leaving voters in the general election to pick between “bad” and “worse.”  Other national rights organizations, such as Gun Owners of America, get involved in primaries, but they have less reach and fewer resources than does the NRA.  Many local grassroots organizations that could have an impact are structured as 501(c) organizations and are forbidden by law from actively participating in electoral politics.

 The biggest challenge is overcoming voter apathy.  Most Americans pay little attention to politics until the weeks leading up to the general election, and even then, many only pay attention if it is a presidential election year or there is some major controversy driving heavy news coverage and “water-cooler” conversation. 

Another challenge of a primary campaign is that it can churn up animosity between members of the same political party and generate fuel for the opposition party to use in the general election.  Former President Reagan’s “Eleventh Commandment: Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican” was aimed at minimizing infighting that weakens the party.  That admonition is sound political advice because primaries are decided by the party faithful, and harsh criticism or attack ads are more likely to backfire if those party members perceive them as harmful to individual candidates or the party as a whole.

The most misleading and destructive concept in primary season is the idea of “electability.”  This idea revolves around two misguided concepts:

1.      That the base will always support the candidate, even if they don’t agree with his positions on certain issues, and

2.      That capturing the votes of “moderates” and independents is the key to winning general elections.

What these flawed assumptions fail to account for is the impact and power of an excited and activated base.  Milquetoast candidates do not excite or activate the base – and they often alienate important segments of the base.  If a candidate can’t excite the base of their own party, how are they expected to win the confidence of the independents and “moderates” of the other party?  Encouraging people to base their votes, not on a candidate’s qualifications or political philosophy, but rather on their appeal to “the middle” is a call to mediocrity and ultimate failure. 

The Democrats have firmly established themselves as the party of gun control, while the Republicans have defaulted to being the party of not supporting new gun control.  Only third parties like the Libertarians and the Constitution Party have come out strongly as actually supporting the individual right to arms, and, unfortunately, in most cases, their candidates truly are unelectable because they simply don’t have the base to compete with the two major parties.

Pro-gun Democrats and Republicans can shift the dynamic by always voting only for solid pro-rights candidates in the primaries.  Pro-rights Republicans are frequently victims of the “electability” fallacy in the primaries.  Clashes between the Republican establishment and the conservative wing of the party have ruffled a lot of feathers.  The addition of the TEA Party to the mix, often sponsoring wildcard candidates to challenge wishy-washy, establishment incumbents, has further confused the matter.  Regardless of claims of electability, the rule of thumb for you as a voter – especially in the primaries – should always be to vote for the candidate who best represents your beliefs and philosophy.  If enough people agree with you, your candidate will move on to a run-off or the general election, if not, at least your vote might help to shift the winner’s position your way a bit.  If you let others pick your candidates you’re likely to be left with a choice between the lesser of two evils come November.

Right now you have a chance have an impact on the choices that will be available this November.  Of course I’m hoping that every race in the general election will be a choice between the pro-rights Republican and the pro-rights Democrat; what’s most important to you?  Learn about your candidates, cast your vote in accordance with your beliefs, and work hard for the candidate that best represents your views. 

Get involved and share ideas and information at  Don’t leave these important decisions up to someone else.  Get involved.

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