Primary-less politics leaves out public’s interests to service financial necessity

Cover politics like a tennis match.

That depressing advice came from a former political reporter I met just before taking my current job. Maybe he meant – me being a former sports reporter – to cover the volleys between the two competing sides. Or, could it have been that reporters should play the role of line judge? I never liked the suggestion enough to ask.

Either way, thinking about elected government in binary code has always seemed too simplistic. Politics might be a game played by two teams when a certain Tuesday in November finally rolls around, but the other two years between presidential and midterms elections are a concrete mixer of messy policy debates and churning factions right up until the time comes when the whole thing solidifies.

Pro-life, pro-choice, gay marriage, immigration, national health care, tax increases, school funding and gun rights – they all get lip service each election cycle. As if thinking about states as red or blue accurately defines the vast grassroots landscapes between Tea Party and Blue Dogs.

If politics was a tennis match, however, there wouldn’t be much in the way of tournament coverage on the schedule for the 2014 primaries.

Both the Republican and Democratic state parties seem to already be looking to avoid messy bloodletting during a 2014 summer primary. If it plays out that way, it will be unfortunate for voters in both parties, who have yet to hear a single platform idea.

Backing a single candidate probably makes sense for politicos looking to draw big fundraising and avoid scrutiny of a single candidate.

The most recent example of a primary gone wrong in Michigan was the 2012 U.S. Senate Republican campaign battle between Pete Hoekstra, the former congressman from Holland, and Cornerstone School co-founder Clark Durant.

Hoekstra led most of the summer primary season in the polls, but heated rhetoric about his “Debbie Spend-It-Now” Super Bowl ad from Durant plagued the veteran Republican into the general election. Incumbent Sen. Debbie Stabenow went on to out-fundraise Hoekstra $14 million to $5 million and won by double digits.

So, the state parties are obviously aware candidates need to get out early to bring in the mountains of cash coming flooding into elections in the post-Citizens United era.

The tickets seem to almost be set for the midterm election for the main races.

Congressman Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Hills, is slated to spearhead the Democratic efforts for the seat held by retiring veteran Sen. Carl Levin.

While Republican Congressman Mike Rogers, R-Howell., who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, has been the buzzed-about frontrunner to challenge Peters. Though, former Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land and Congressman Justin Amish, R-Cascade, have also been mentioned as potential candidates.

In the Michigan gubernatorial race Gov. Rick Snyder has gone from one tough nerd to one tough incumbent and is firmly entrenched with the GOP to get another four years.

Former Democratic Congressman Mark Schauer of Battle Creek might not officially be a candidate, but he seems to be the favorite to get a lone bid for the Dem nomination a year from August.

We might even have a guess at the outcome.

An EPIC-MRA poll released Tuesday puts Snyder and Schauer in a virtual tie, with each candidate getting 39 percent of the likely voters. Twenty-two percent of voters were undecided.

In the Senate race, Peters led Rogers (37 to 30 percent) in the poll with 33 percent of voters currently undecided.

The poll was conducted May 5-11, on 600 callers with a 4 percent plus-minus margin of error.

So, for those looking at the elections like a sporting event, there are your stats for the day.

What we don’t have is an inkling about how the candidates plan to use their terms in office, or if they will have any priorities at all outside of the broader party stances or whether they have a road map for the future. Without strong primaries there will be less media interest, not to mention a voter vetting process.  Candidates won’t have to make themselves as available to the press, grassroots groups or feel pressured to debate.

In the new big-money politics, where primaries are less desirable, we just might be left with only television ad buys, and fewer debates and lower voter turnouts to guide us. Government will seem a little more distant from our daily lives.

It will be a little like watching Wimbledon, I guess.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

If you learned something from the story you're reading please consider supporting our work. Your donation allows us to keep our Michigan-focused reporting and analysis free and accessible to all. All donations are voluntary, but for as little as $1 you can become a member of Bridge Club and support freedom of the press in Michigan during a crucial election year.

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Donate now

Comment Form

Add new comment

Dear Reader: We value your thoughts and criticism on the articles, but insist on civility. Criticizing comments or ideas is welcome, but Bridge won’t tolerate comments that are false or defamatory or that demean, personally attack, spread hate or harmful stereotypes. Violating these standards could result in a ban.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.


Sun, 05/26/2013 - 10:10am
Politics is a game and the farther removed from the location of their elected the more the game expands to the parties. Take the time to have a few personal conversations with individual elected official talking about their day to day acttivities (not about the issues) and you will soon hear about who said what and how that was scored, not a on an issue but on a political score card. It happens on the City Council about who over talked or what personal jib was made, it will be about what was said on the Legislative floor and how it played with other Legislators, in Wasington it will be about the stumble or misspoke and how it will play in the parties and with the media. It becomes more and more a personal game of barbs, jibes, and digs. It becomes the culture the less and less the individuals are involved with the consequences of their job responsibilities. A City concilman has to drive on the roads, drive through the snow, hear about the fires or crime, the poor garbage pick-up, the everyday things that the voters come to talk about with them at the regular council meetings. Those in Lansing may drive the roads, and return home on the weekends and hear from their friends and neighbors but it is much less personal for few are directly and daily impacted by their actions, and those in Washington seldom return home and when they do it is mostly for scheduled and controlled meeting that change on every viist, few if any of their friends or neighbors even see the direct impact of Congressional action let alone talk about it, the infrequent visits are more personal catch up. A reporter needs to be sensistive to the politics and even talk about the scoring the politicians use, but more importantly they need to report on the impact (spending, effectiveness, community applications, etc.) so the politicians have some link and the diverse electorate can score on the politicians (individually) are doing with their votes. Being a 'pundit' is an easy and even high paying way to present our politicians, but they are not reporters. And those reporters who only talk about the scoring and poltical competions are not working they are simply conduits of the people they are reporting on. The real reporting are the ones that focus on the impact of actions (the what), telling the public the why's and how's of the actions is the valued reporting. The why's and how's of the politics is part of reporting the what. Hopefully we will hear from a real reporter now and then that reports on the what and the why's and how's of it happening rather than beciming just another part of the political game and reporting on the political scoring.
Charles Richards
Sun, 05/26/2013 - 3:41pm
Mr. Hubbard could consider that it is the primaries, where it is necessary to appeal to the party base, that result in two candidates from the extreme wings of their respective parties.
Tue, 05/28/2013 - 9:51am
Mr. Hubbard, I have three points: 1. You write of "the vast grassroots landscapes between Tea Party and Blue Dogs" as if that were the entire poltical spectrum. This is inaccurate: The term "Blue Dog" refers to conservative Democrats, particularly those elected in Republican-leaning states, who either through expedience or true belief tend to side with Republicans and oppose their fellow Democrats on key votes. The vast majority of Democrats, and all those who consider themselves "progressive" or "liberal," stand to the left of the Blue Dogs. 2. The controversy about former Rep. Pete Hoekstra's Super Bowl ad didn't spring from Clark Durant: They originated in the near-universal scorn heaped on the ad, which was equal parts stupid and racially offensive, putting Hoekstra on the defensive from the start of the Senate race. Durant was a nuisance that Hoekstra mostly ignored, and rightly so. Still, let's give the incumbent some credit here -- after all, Sen. Debbie Stabenow has never lost a contested election in her life -- and acknowledge that Hoekstra's many unforced errors made her job easier. 3. Primaries next year may be dull at the state level, but with gerrymandering of the Congressional and Legislative districts the biggest political fights are going to be happening in August 2014...not November. You'll have no lack of intraparty squabbles to write about, I assure you.