I saw THIS list from VPAP outlining the contested elections in the House of Delegates for 2011. I was stunned. Of the 100 seats in the House of Delegates, ONLY FIFTEEN WILL BE CONTESTED BETWEEN A REPUBLICAN AND A DEMOCRAT. That is an astounding 15% COMPETITION RATE. Wow. […]
As a comparison, there will be 17 competitive state senate seats out of 40, at a clip of 42% competition rate.
Matt Yglesias makes a point for public financing; I think it’s important to not let party leaders off the hook, whatever the institutional impediments to competitive elections.
Let’s grant that gerrymandered districts produce difficult environments for the minority party. It’s unlikely that a Democrat will ever win a district with a R+20 PVI, so I understand the reluctance of party leaders to dedicate significant resources to long-shot campaigns. But this doesn’t excuse the inability of a major party to at least field a candidate, gather the requisite signatures, and place a name on the ballot.
Uncontested elections are the point at which the gap between democratic theory and democratic practice expands into a chasm of well-founded cynicism. Parties are supposed to aggregate interests, introduce an agenda, and then govern on the mandate generated by their election performance. In Virginia, the parties seem to be accomplishing this role in 15% of the Commonwealth, at most.
High-minded theory aside, failure to compete is a strategic error on the part of the party leadership. For starters, you just never know: maybe the incumbent in this secure gerrymandered district makes snuff films in his spare time. Who is going to find out about this unless some local media attention is given to the race? Only a competitive contest, even if it’s competitive in name only, will generate scrutiny of the incumbent.
Howard Dean was also right on this point. Electioneering is an institution. The party may lose the State Senate seat or the House of Delegates contest, but they’ll have developed a voter/volunteer list for the next competitive statewide election and built the party’s brand for the future.
We have a similar situation in Wyoming. Frequently we see a primary between two or three Republicans, nothing on the Democratic side. The Democratic party says no one wants to run. Hmmmm… perhaps some of these ideas could be helpful?