Lessons from the 2020 Primary Elections

What can we learn from the 2020 primary elections? This article explains what the winning candidates had in common. I wrote similar articles in 20142016, and 2018.

They don’t call it the establishment for nothing Establishment candidates won most state house races. They have the inside track on fundraising, endorsements, and organization.  None of the winners are outright moderates.  Most could be considered establishment conservatives.  Solid conservative winners include Chase Turner, Steve Carra, Ken Borton, and John Damoose.

Experience counts Elected experience is valuable for winning candidates. Ken Borton is a county commissioner, and establishment conservative winners like Robert Bezotte, TC Clements, and Dave Morgan are also elected officials.

Incumbency Matters All incumbent Republicans won renomination. Beating an incumbent in a primary is very hard. In recent years, the only conservative challengers who beat a Republican incumbent are Tim Walberg in 2006, Lee Chatfield in 2014, and Matt Hall in 2018. Certainly many incumbents deserve primary challenges, but conservatives have limited resources. Winning an open seat is much easier than beating an incumbent. Politicians can still be held to account when they run for other offices.  There are still some benefits to primary challenges, though, as they may encourage the incumbent to vote better for awhile and may help the challenger to win an open seat later.

If at first you don’t succeed  Chase Turner almost beat an incumbent in the 2018 primary.  This time, he easily won the primary, advancing to a competitive general election.  Candidates who lost this time should look for opportunities to run again in the future.

Don’t split the vote Conservatives did much better this year than in past years. HD-58 may have been lost to a less conservative candidate due to vote splitting.  Conservatives may have benefited from splits in the establishment in HD-59.

Money doesn’t buy elections  Self-funding candidates have a bad electoral track record.  Sreenivas Cherukuri self-funded and lost badly in HD-38.  Shri Thanedar did win the D nomination in HD-3 with major self-funding after losing a race for governor in 2018.

Money is essential Money does not guarantee victory, but it is essential to get your message out. This is particularly true in local elections, which are often decided by name recognition. Look at how much winning conservative candidates raised.
Turner 31K
Carra 24K
Borton 50K
Damoose 70K

The candidate who raised the most money won in 6 of 12 contested primaries in open Republican seats (fewer than in past cycles), and the remaining winners still had good fundraising.  My rule of thumb is that the minimum amount needed to be a credible candidate is $30,000. Only two winners raised less than 30K this cycle, one in a race where no candidate did.  The minimum raised by a winner was 24K.

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  1 comment for “Lessons from the 2020 Primary Elections

  1. Sue Schwatrz
    August 15, 2020 at 6:06 pm

    Yes, its $$$$$. It disgusts me. But, this was an unusual campaign cycle, with minimal attention given to candidates. Door walking, campaign rally's were non-existent. Radio ads won the race of the 104, and am terrified the winner will not be able to win over the democratic candidate. At the county convention this week, there was a plea to join and "for $25 you too can help sponsor republican candidates" within the county. I would rather give my money directly to the candidate committee then funnel it through a group of rinos.

    Other observations, SOS announced that 10600 or so AV ballots were disqualified and never saw the inside of an election machine. Isn't that pretty close to the amount of votes Trump won MI? Also, only 35% of registered voters turned out for this primary. Milages won across the board. 35% of registered voters decided your property taxes for the next 5 to 10 years. For this reason alone, milages should NEVER be allowed on primary ballots. Don't hand me crap about it being a cost savings. Remember the gas tax vote? It failed 80/20%. It was the ONLY issue on the ballot.

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