John Walsh

Contested primary good for Democrats

Governor Deval Patrick celebrates after his 2006 election.
Governor Deval Patrick celebrates after his 2006 election.

Massachusetts Democrats win a lot of elections. As chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, that gives me great satisfaction. But it is also important to understand why we win, especially now, because voters will elect a new US senator in a few months.

The conventional wisdom is that we win because we’re good at running elections. We celebrate the success of a grass-roots, community-organizing brand of politics and smile when our Republican friends blame their losses on “the machine.” It’s true that getting neighbors to talk to each other works — and that’s good. But it’s not enough.

It’s also essential that Democratic candidates clearly state what they believe; the fact that those beliefs are shared by so many across Massachusetts helps us win. At our national convention in Charlotte, N.C., last summer, Governor Patrick urged Democrats all across America to “grow a backbone” and stand up for our values. It’s no surprise that what has worked here at home helped Democrats win all over. So, being right on the issues and engaging voters one-on-one is a good start. But at least one other factor is essential.


The greatest strength we have as a party is our deep pool of talented candidates, and competition among them is good for the party. It provides a way for the best candidate to come to the fore; like most competitive endeavors, intramural scrimmages build our muscles and hone our skills leading up to the real contest. I believed this in 2005, when I disregarded the prevailing wisdom of so many in our party who felt rallying behind a single candidate was our best hope to end 16 years of Republican governors. At that time I was proud to work to elect Deval Patrick; while success was far from guaranteed at the outset, I was certain that our party was strong enough to withstand a primary and would benefit from competition. It was true then, and it is true now.

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As we embark on a spirited primary between US Representative Stephen Lynch and US Representative Edward Markey to choose the party’s nominee for US Senate, I believe a contested primary will produce the best candidate to win the general election in June. Our long-term advantage — again, it’s a deep pool of talent — is enhanced by sending the message that we embrace competition and encourage the best in our party to run. Take a look at the four dozen Democrats I just appointed to our Platform Drafting Committee. They are among the current and future leaders of our party.

When our best candidates compete by engaging voters directly on issues they care about, we win — as a party and as a nation.

John Walsh is chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party.