Ohio’s Vagabond Presidential Primary

Yesterday as I was walking to work I noticed some colorful chalk printing on the sidewalk.  At the corner of Broad and Third, just across from the Ohio Statehouse in the center of downtown Columbus, someone had written: “Bernie not Hillary March 15th.”

IMG_6410This little bit of street art politics was the first sign of a 2016 campaign I’ve seen in Ohio, from either party — and coming from the cash-strapped, guerilla-level Bernie Sanders campaign you’d expect it to be something like a chalk message — but it gave me a moment’s pause.  March 15?

Turns out that March 15 is the new date of the Ohio presidential primary.  Those of us who are old enough remember when Ohio used to be at the end of the primary cycle, part of an old “Super Tuesday” group of big-state primaries designed to tip the balance in favor of one candidate or another.  But then people realized that candidates never made it to the end because they ran out of money, and the early primaries were the decisive ones that drew the media money and the tax-paying, hotel room-using campaigns.  Since then, Ohio’s primary has become a vagabond, moving around the calendar, trying to find a meaningful role.

Ohio’s primary was last held in June in 1992.  In 1996 the Ohio primary was in the middle of March, then for the last few presidential election cycles, it has been held in the first week of March, as part of a new Super Tuesday grouping.  This year, the primary has been moved back a week — apparently because the national parties have tinkered with their allocation of delegate rules to discourage states from front-loading the process — and some argued that the primary should have been moved even farther back, to May.

By the time I walked home last night a summer rainstorm had washed away the chalk message from the Sanders supporter — and Ohio’s current primary date may prove to be about as temporary, as the Ohio party pols try to thread the needle between maximizing their delegate allocation and attempting to ensure that a big, diverse state like Ohio has some more significant role in the candidate selection process.  In 2016, they hope that magic date is March 15.  In 2020, who knows?

Joe Or No Joe

With the calendar turning to August, it’s officially the silly season in American politics.  On the Republican side, a loudmouthed, self-promoting, angry anti-politician is leading in the polls, and 10 of 17 declared presidential candidates will crowd onto the stage to have a “debate” on Thursday.  And on the Democratic side, politicos and pundits are talking seriously about drafting Joe Biden to throw his hat in the ring.

Wait a second . . . Joe Biden?  72-year-old, two-time also-ran, vice president Joe Biden?

Evidently so.  There’s apparently concern in some Democratic quarters about Hillary Clinton being damaged goods.  Her trustworthiness numbers aren’t good — whether it is because of her State Department email server fiasco, or because everything she does and says seems so carefully scripted and calibrated, or for some other reason — and she hasn’t exactly been lighting it up on the campaign trail.  In fact, there seems to be a lot more excitement about Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, a socialist who has been drawing big crowds in the early decision states.  So while Hillary has raised tons of money and signed up legions of heavyweight staffers and fundraisers, people are beginning to wonder whether her nomination is as inevitable and certain as, say, Ed Muskie in 1972.

But if you think Hillary Clinton may not be the best candidate to carry the Democratic banner, where do you turn?  America isn’t likely to elect a 70-something socialist, and former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley doesn’t exactly have people buzzing.  Most of the leading Democratic politicians on the national scene don’t seem especially keen to take on the Clinton political machine.  That leaves good old Joe.  He’s been on the national Democratic scene forever, he’s a known commodity, and although he’s been a gaffe machine in his prior races he’s one of those pols who seems to love being on the campaign trail — whereas Hillary Clinton seems to consider it to be a painful hassle.

I have no idea whether Joe Biden will end up running — he’s just lost his son to cancer, but once the presidential bug bites it’s hard to shake the obsessive lure of the Oval Office.  What’s more interesting to me is that the national Democratic bench seems so shallow — and, with the exception of O’Malley, so long in the tooth.  Why aren’t the party bigwigs talking about Democratic governors (other than California’s Jerry Brown, who is 77), or Senators like Ohio’s Sherrod Brown?  Why aren’t more up-and-coming Ds willing to risk a long-shot run, like Bill Clinton did in 1992?

When You Endorse A Convicted Crook

It’s hard to imagine that one of the two major political parties in America would endorse a corrupt, convicted felon in a race for a congressional seat but, unbelievably, that’s exactly what has happened in Louisiana.

The Louisiana Democratic Central Committee has endorsed former Governor Edwin Edwards in the state’s sixth congressional district.  Edwards was convicted of various federal crimes, including racketeering, extortion, conspiracy, and fraud, and served time in the federal pen — 8 years, to be exact.  In fact, because of his recent federal conviction, he’s disqualified from running for statewide office in Louisiana, yet the state’s Democratic Central Committee nevertheless sees fit to endorse him for a federal office.

The Central Committee apparently voted “overwhelmingly” to endorse Edwards, and the Louisiana Democratic Party Vice Chairman said that while the congressional race is “challenging terrain” for Democrats, “I am impressed with the team and the energy coming from Team Edwards — and I have often been told to never count out Edwin Edwards.”

What better evidence of the fact that political parties put party affiliation above the good of the state and country?  No rational person could possibly contend that putting somebody like Edwards in Congress is a good idea — regardless of whether his “team” has “energy.”  If the Louisiana Democratic Party had any self-respect, it would shun Edwards.  That the party has done the opposite is an embarrassment — and also shows all of us that political party endorsements shouldn’t be given much credit by voters.  If a major political party can endorse a crook like Edwards, can a yellow dog be far behind?