Monday, January 19, 2015

Book Review: Primary Politics

The full title is “Primary Politics: How Presidential Candidates Have Shaped the Modern Nominating System,” and the book fully delivers what the title promises. Elaine C. Kamarck has served both the DNC and the Clinton White House, as well as the Gore Campaign. She brings an insider’s view to the table.

Kamarck begins by recounting how—and why—the national political party machinery sought to retain control over the presidential nomination process. A populist reform movement began to grow in the late sixties whose vision was to place control of the nominations in the hands of the average voter.

Using the presidential nominations from 1968 to 2008, she traces how the Democratic Party in particular moved from caucuses (which favored party control) and winner-take-all primaries (which allowed weak candidates with early wins to gain more momentum than they should) to the proportional representation (which gives the voter-on-the-street control) reflected in the modern Democratic nomination process.

Kamarck shows that presidential candidates who don’t focus on the early voting states do poorly, and further, that campaigners who don’t shift their focus from winning votes to winning delegates in the second half of the campaign likewise fail to make the cut.

The last part of the book is devoted to discussing the whys and wherefores of uncommitted superdelegates, and whether or not party conventions really matter anymore. Her final chapter is particularly strong, as she talks about possible reforms being considered after the 2008 conventions.

I read the book as part of the research for my upcoming novel, The Candidate. It was an eye-opener to the back room machinations of both political parties, as well as a good primer on basic campaign strategy to capture the nomination of one of the major parties. I recommend the book if you are a political junkie looking for in-depth, behind-the-scenes problems and tactics of a race to win the presidential nomination.

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