On Tuesday, June 12, voters across the Commonwealth will have the opportunity to participate in an anomaly: a primary to choose a nominee for a U.S. Senate seat that does not involve an incumbent in that particular primary race.
There have only been five U.S. Senate primaries since 1970 – two for the Republicans and three for the Democrats and only two have had candidates not involving an incumbent and only one was not head-to-head.
As far as the GOP goes, the elections in 1996 and 2012 involved either an incumbent, Sen. John Warner, or a former incumbent on a comeback quest, Sen. George Allen. Both won easily with over 60 percent of the vote.
To get some idea on what this looks like in Virginia with more than a head-to-head match-up, you have to look at the 1970 Democratic Primary between the nominee George Rawlings, Jr., Clive Duval II and Milton Colvin. However, that can hardly be a representative sample as the incumbent U.S. Senator that year – and the one who cruised to re-election – was Independent Sen. Harry Byrd.
In other words, what we’re about to see next Tuesday has not happened in Virginia in generations: a truly competitive primary to determine a new candidate for the Senate.
The last Republican primary for the Senate was held during a presidential election year. Mitt Romney was already the effective Republican nominee, and President Barack Obama faced no opposition. So, the U.S. Senate race was truly the biggest game in town.
Allen won handily over his three opponents, which included first-time candidate E.W. Jackson, with 65 percent of the vote. More than 256,000 votes were cast.
While some might make the argument that some Democrats voted in that election, there will be much less of that chance this cycle because several of the congressional districts – including the 2nd – have very competitive nomination contests as well.
This means only Republicans are likely to vote for the candidate of their choice in the U.S. Senate primary, and you would hope – at least if you’re a party person – that voters show up.
Republican Party decision makers have argued that spending the money on a publicly funded primary will enable them to identify more voters who are supportive of their agenda.
An individual’s vote in the primary is secret, but the fact that they voted is not. Parties wish to take advantage of that knowledge to encourage a voter in subsequent elections to volunteer, donate, and vote for their candidates.
Primary proponents also argue that the candidate chosen will best represent the GOP to a broader electorate. In the case of the 2013 Republican gubernatorial nomination, which was a convention, it has been stated, weakly, that former Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli would not have won a primary versus former Lt. Governor Bill Bolling.
Or that Jackson, who at that time was (mis)characterized as an ideologue and won in a balloting marathon the lieutenant gubernatorial nod, would have lost in a primary if he could have competed with the resources needed for a statewide race at all. As a reminder, he did compete the year before in the U.S. Senate primary.
Regardless, Corey Stewart, a Minnesota firebrand and former Trump surrogate, Nick Freitas, the U.S. Army special forces soldier from California and now a pro-Liberty (i.e. Rand Paul) conservative, and Jackson, the foster child from Pennsylvania turned Marine turned one-time GOP statewide candidate, all have amazing stories to tell and deserve the time and consideration of a vote.
Let’s hope that the lure of summer sea breezes and woefully inadequate media coverage don’t lull the electorate to sleep. This truly is a once-in-a-generation opportunity.
This column appears in The Princess Anne Independent News.
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