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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Highly specific Texas primary exit-poll datum (one voter)

I took advantage of one of Harris County's many, convenient early voting locations tonight about 6:15 p.m. There was about a 15-minute line, but there were probably two dozen electronic voting machines up and running, with a full complement of four volunteers doing the check-ins, so the line moved quickly.

I was struck by how very much the folks both waiting in line and voting looked like a typical modern Harris County jury pool. I'd venture a decent wager that there's a strong positive correlation (not to be confused with causation) between bothering to vote early and bothering to show up for jury duty.

Virtually everyone I saw checking in, moreover, had brought with them their voter registration cards, which certainly made the check-in process a snap. I'll bet there's a strong positive correlation between being an early voter and remembering to bring your voter registration card, too.

Everyone seemed to be in a good mood. Heck, to my genuine surprise, I found that I was in a good mood too — perhaps because it'd been a beautiful crisp and sunny spring day in Houston; perhaps because I figured I was avoiding a longer line next week; perhaps my fellow voters' good moods were contagious; or perhaps I was just feeling the simple satisfaction that comes from simultaneously performing a civic duty and enjoying a civic privilege.

The same polling places and voting machines serve for both the Republican and Democratic primaries. One simply tells the check-in volunteers which primary one wishes to vote in. They offer to stamp your voter registration card with the party name if you want. One such stamp (at least as I understand it, at a distance) is the required entry ticket to one of this year's Democratic Party caucus on election day. Those, in turn, will award a good-sized slug of additional delegates to one or the other Democratic nominee based on caucus turnout and participation, to go along with the delegates awarded (proportionally, according to formulae that mystify me) based on the primary voting. And the first page of the electronic ballot warned that by voting in one party's primary, you made yourself ineligible for this year to vote in the other party's primary.

*******

I already know, with a high degree of certainty, to whom my votes will go in the general election. And despite Huckabee's weird flirtation, bordering on a sort of stalker's fixation, with the possibility that he might ace McCain out by a few percentage points here in Texas, the GOP nomination, on a national basis, is not in doubt. There are a few down-ballot contested races on the GOP slate that I care about, particularly those involving state trial and appellate judges and county government officials. But I was still mightily tempted — and I've been engaged in a raging internal debate about it for a couple of weeks now — to cast a "strategic" vote in the Democratic Primary instead this year.

A synonym for the term "strategic vote" is "spoiling vote."

For much of my adult life, when Texas was a one-party state and that party was the Democratic Party, I routinely voted in the Democratic Primary, even though I intended to vote Republican in the general election. That was absolutely commonplace in Texas politics for decades — and it was a practice not only understood and tolerated by the Democrats of that era, but something they considered in their primary campaigns in much the same way both parties' national organizations now talk about courting "cross-over voters" in the general election. The more conservative Democrats were going to get the sprinkling of GOP voters' primary votes — and thus did candidates like Lloyd Bentsen knock the stuffing out of incumbents like Ralph Yarborough when the latter tended, upon spending too much time outside Texas, to fall prey to those radical/librul notions from them Northeastern Commie-fied Democrats. By the late 1990s, to some extent (especially in Dallas and Harris Counties and chunks of the Panhandle), turn-about had become fair play, and Democrats were voting in the GOP primary so they could have an impact on those contested races.

In neither instance I've just mentioned were these cross-voters making "strategic" or "spoiling" votes, though: If the outcome of the general election is considered a foregone conclusion in favor of the other side, then voting in the other side's primary is essentially equivalent to casting a general election vote. You only cast a spoiling primary vote when (a) your vote in your own party's primary wouldn't much matter, but when (b) your vote might matter in the opposing primary, and when (c) the general election looks like it might be close.

The practice doesn't offend me on its face.  Indeed, even in general elections, a goodly percentage of the time I view the vote I'm casting as much or more in terms of who I'm voting against, so the notion of picking which primary I choose to vote in mainly for the purpose of casting an "against" vote is no stretch at all. The law just requires that I (or anyone) not vote in both primaries, but it doesn't, and can't, and mustn't, ever require that a voter believe in and adhere to either party or its candidates or nominees. Hey, it's a free country! And that means my own damned reasons for why I vote the way I vote, or which primary I choose to vote in, are entirely satisfactory by definition; and they may be either entirely personal or (in the case of a blogger, or a pundit even from pre-internet days giving advice about "strategic voting") even entirely public.

*******

This year, the general election might be close even in Texas, depending on who the Dems nominate (and, to a vastly lesser degree, on who McCain picks as a running mate). So my theory this year, in considering the possibility of casting a strategic votes, was that if I was going to vote in my disfavored party's primary, I'd cast my vote for the weakest candidate — i.e., the one who I think my favored party and its nominee have the best chance to beat in the general election.

The trouble this year has been that I'm not entirely sure who that would turn out to be. Most of the time, I've perceived Obama as, ultimately, the more dangerous (i.e., likely to win) general election candidate. I think his hype and sizzle will absolutely turn out the Dems' base — to a vastly better degree than Kerry did in 2004, and those were record general election turnouts for both parties throughout the country. As between him and Hillary, I also think she's more likely to triangulate in office. All the Clintons have ever cared about, ever, has been gaining and then retaining power; they couldn't give a rat's fart in a hurricane about anything or anyone else; and there's some comfort in knowing that, if you're opposing them, because it makes them more predictable, less extreme, and easier to beat when they do go to extremes (viz, HillaryCare ver. 1.0). As a dedicated conservative and lifelong Republican, I've been thinking (most of the time) that I'd rather see Hillary get the Democratic nomination, both because I think we'd have a better chance of beating her in November, and because if that fails I think we'll have a better chance of stalemating her in office.

And right now, there's no doubt that even here in Texas, Hillary is the underdog. I'd love to see her and Obama still circling each other, crouched, arms akimbo and switch-blades flashing in the moonlight, right through to the Democratic National Rumble Convention. A vote for Hillary in Texas is a vote for Chaos in Denver!

But then again: There are days when I'm absolutely convinced that despite all of Obama's zeal and charisma — which I think would be catastrophic to underestimate, and easy to mishandle — I haven't seen a candidate with such an untested glass jaw in a national contest since George McGovern.

So: Vote for the empty suit? Or for the pants-suit? What would the smartest strategic vote be, I wondered? Talk about your Hobson's Choice!

*******

Worst of all: If I really wanted to maximize the throw-weight of my spoiling vote, I'd have to show up for a local Democratic caucus. Even if I wore a stocking cap, really weird clothes, and wired my jaw shut, I'm pretty sure other people in that room would sense my lack of Democratic Party bona fides. (See above, re my comparison of voters and jurors, the latter of which, when they're working and interacting in groups, exhibit a vastly more powerful BS-detection capability than ordinary, solitary individuals do. You can fool some of the people all of the time, etc.) So I'd have to be prepared to endure, and maybe to fake, not just enthusiasm for a pair of candidates whose platforms and policies make me tend to gag and break out in hives, I'd have to be prepared to weather outright hostility.

Maybe I could have downloaded that "Hott 4 Hillary" music video to my cell-phone, and taken it and a set of headphones to the caucus. I liked that video a lot, even with the very weak ending. Okay, well, actually, I liked the aspiring young actress in that video a lot. I think I really connected with her in a way that I never managed with Obama Girl.

And my home water heater has a pretty large capacity. I could take as many showers as I needed, after the caucus. Maybe a little fasting, a little controlled purging between showers. Start with the Brillo pads and the Lava hand soap, then move to Dial or Irish Spring on the third or forth shower. Pine-Sol rinses in between. Maybe something antibiotic to deal with the brush lesions.

If I were braver, I guess, I could have gone through with it. I could have parachuted behind Democratic lines. I could have eaten their donuts and drank their coffee and raised a paw for the most-worse of the two.

*******

But I'm too old, and not very brave, and my karma possibly would have never recovered from such a corrosive bath of deviousness.

So I voted in the GOP primary. Damn you and me both, John McCain, there's a greater leap of faith in the vote I cast for you tonight than in any presidential vote I've ever cast. I expect you to perform in this election with the same determination you showed at the Hanoi Hilton — not the good-time Johnny you played at Annapolis nor the self-righteous and too-flexible "political maverick" that charms those MSM reporters. You were my fourth choice out of a field of five serious GOP candidates. But you're the least-worst remaining national alternative in wartime. Don't let me down, because my vote tonight was probably typical of the majority of committed Republican votes you'll receive from here on out, all the way through to November. Straighten up and fly right, aviator! Your party, and more importantly, your country and the world, need you at your very best.

Posted by Beldar at 10:58 PM in 2008 Election, Politics (2008) | Permalink

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Comments

(1) Deborah made the following comment | Feb 27, 2008 11:28:25 PM | Permalink

Honor and Integrity are in short supply these days. I'm glad yours is intact

(2) Antimedia made the following comment | Feb 27, 2008 11:32:37 PM | Permalink

Good luck with that, my friend. McCain was again attacking the Swiftvets just today, returning to his old form of stabbing conservatives in the back while defending the liberals.

His Presidency would be almost as disastrous as Obama's or Clinton's. Hobson's choice indeed. This country is in for at least four years of hell, possibly many more, as the incompetent boobs take over the reins and drive us into the ditch.

(3) LazyMF made the following comment | Feb 28, 2008 2:30:25 PM | Permalink

The last time I crossed primaries is when I had a chance to vote against Phil Graham twice in one election cycle - against him as a presidential candidate in teh primary, and against him as a senator in the general election. I think I voted for Buchanon.

What Phil graham did to his wife in his prior senate campaign was unforgivable.

(4) KevinM made the following comment | Feb 28, 2008 5:55:48 PM | Permalink

So who to vote for down ticket? Do you have any opinions on the DA and judicial races? You must know some of them, no?

(5) Gregory Koster made the following comment | Feb 28, 2008 6:19:21 PM | Permalink

Dear Mr. Dyer: I had the same choice here in Washington, but was working on the day of the caucuses. I suppose you could have split the difference, voting for Hillary, but not going to the caucus. The biggest drawback to deviousness is your name getting on the sucker lists of the Democrats, which means a steady stream of appeals for dough and time. That would be what would make you break out in rashes.

Sincerely yours,
Gregory Koster

(6) Old Coot made the following comment | Feb 29, 2008 9:40:39 AM | Permalink

LazyMF: Spewing venom about someone whose name you don't know how to spell? Ah yes, you are a lazy MF.

(7) Ric Locke made the following comment | Mar 4, 2008 4:16:02 PM | Permalink

Robert Heinlein advised, "When in doubt, vote against."

There is nobody in the race I think will make a good President. In fact, there is nobody in the race I think would make a good county commissioner.

So after I close the store, I will go down to the schoolhouse, request a Democratic ballot, and vote for Obama. There is nobody to vote for, so I will vote against Hillary!. With a little luck I will be able to do so twice this year, and that will be the only tiny wisp of pleasure I will derive from the whole sorry mess.

Regards,
Ric

(8) DRJ made the following comment | Mar 6, 2008 5:45:41 PM | Permalink

I knew I was too lazy to go caucus so I held my nose and voted for McCain, and I'm not going to bother hoping he lives up to my expectations. Even so, he's the best choice now and that's all I can do.

However, I strongly disagree about Hillary (and Bill). They did great damage to the US military through down-sizing, undermining morale, and sell-offs to China. I believe they did it intentionally because of their anti-military bias, and thus it will continue under Hillary. I might be willing to risk Hillary healthcare, taxes, and even judges, but what she will do to the military is a risk I'm not willing to take. I just wish other conservatives felt the same way.

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