The Primaries Are Over. Bring on the General Elections

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- The 2018 primary season came to an end Thursday in New York — the Empire State’s federal primaries were held several weeks ago, but the state breaks up its primaries and, this year, added the twist of putting the state-level vote on a Thursday. 

Nevertheless, a lot of people showed up on the Democratic side, which is where the action was, and they made a big statement by defeating six of the eight state Senate Democrats who had caucused with Republicans to give the minority party control of the upper chamber. That means Democrats have a very good chance to finally take over unified control of New York government; even though the state is overwhelmingly Democratic, gerrymandering and chicanery had somehow prevented the party from gaining a working majority in the state Senate for decades. Now it appears likely Democrats will and, if so, they will also probably be able to draw at least a neutral map after the 2020 census, which would make it very difficult for Republicans to win for the foreseeable future. 

In a lot of ways, this result was a good example of what Democrats have been up to this year. This wasn’t a socialist takeover of the party. It was a surge of new energy, particularly among women. It was also a party newly open to black candidates and other ethnic minorities that Democrats (sometimes including leaders from those groups) had for many years feared running in white-majority districts. All of that meant that Democrats were choosing from a much deeper pool of candidates this year than ever before. (It also means Democrats are now choosing from a much deeper pool of candidates than Republicans have to work with, given that Republicans are still reluctant to nominate women. It’s hard to measure the effect of that difference, but it seems likely it would over time give Democrats real advantages in candidate and elected-official quality.) 

Some of those — such as actress Cynthia Nixon, who lost a doomed campaign against incumbent Governor Andrew Cuomo — turned out to be duds on the campaign trail (although an argument can be made that Nixon’s candidacy did achieve some of its goals). But a lot them have turned out, at least so far, to be a fresh injection of excitement for the party. We have yet to see how all the newcomers who won primaries will do in November, and then how they’ll do in office should they win. There’s not much sign that they will produce the same kinds of problems Tea Party radicals did for Republicans.

That’s because their energy, while very much an effect of Donald Trump’s presidency, has appeared to be more partisan and pragmatic than ideological. Serious primary challenges, for example, have been focused on safe districts (such as the two members of the U.S. House who were defeated in New York and Massachusetts during this cycle) and, in many cases, districts where the incumbent was seriously out of step with the district. Democratic nominees in this cycle have been solidly liberal, to be sure, and there are places that may cost them. But unlike the Tea Party folks, they’re not beating moderates with candidates from the ideological extreme when they have a chance to win in a swing district.   

So that’s it for the primaries (unless you count Louisiana’s jungle primary on Election Day, which isn’t really a primary but a first-stage general election). The general election campaigns have begun; early voting in many states is just around the corner. If you haven’t tuned in yet, it’s been a fascinating election year, with more to come. 

1. Chad Bown at the Monkey Cage assesses how the trade wars are going.

2. Also at the Monkey Cage, Jan Dutkiewicz on regulating meat in Missouri

3. Greg Koger on filibusters and gridlock

4. Interesting: James C. Capretta joins the fight for congressional capacity. Is there really the potential for bipartisan support? 

5. My Bloomberg Opinion colleague Noah Smith on diversity

6. Philip Klein really doesn’t want Republicans to support socialism. Regardless of whether you agree with him about Medicare, he’s right about the implications of Republican health-care attacks. 

7. Vann Newkirk II on Trump and Puerto Rico

8. Here at Bloomberg Opinion, Timothy L. O'Brien on Trump and Puerto Rico

9. And Alexandra Petri on all those people in Puerto Rico the president thinks are still alive. 

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering politics and policy. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.

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