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Opinion: Columnists

There's nothing undemocratic about strategic voting

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Opinion,Noemie Emery,Columnists,Republican Party,2014 Elections,Campaigns,Magazine,Thad Cochran,Chris McDaniel

Mississippi sore loser Chris McDaniel and his supporters wouldn't like me too much.

For many years in the state where I was born, I voted in primaries for people I didn't like, didn't agree with and had no intention of voting for later -- secure in the thought I was doing my best in a bad situation I had no part in bringing about. Yes, years before Operation Chaos occurred to Rush Limbaugh, I had been voting strategically in New York. Here's how it all came about.

Back in the Stone Age when I began voting, I was a genuine Democrat who believed in the party, but then, as Joe Lieberman would be happy to tell you, things changed. It went from being John Kennedy's to Ted Kennedy's party, from "Ich bin ein Berliner" to "Come home, America," from integration to quotas, abortion and identity politics. I went from being a registered Democrat who voted for Democrats to being a registered Democrat who voted most of the time for Republican candidates, waiting for my party to come back to its senses -- and knowing the primary vote was an additional layer of influence, that it would have been folly to have just thrown away.

I voted for Daniel Patrick Moynihan in the 1976 Senate primary race that he won by a very few votes against Bella Abzug, and for him again in November and in all races thereafter. But the Democratic Senate primary race in 1992 pit a pale nerdy male against two female abortion extremists, from whom I received mountains of mail pledging to fight tooth-and-nail for what they referred to as "choice." I went with the nerd, who lost in the fall to the Republican, for whom I had voted. Mission accomplished. Then I moved to Virginia, which has open primaries and no registration by party, so voters can choose which party to undermine, just as the founders had planned.

Was I unique in the use of these serpentine tactics? Probably not. Partisans rage at the thought that outsiders should intervene in "their" process, but I was a voter before becoming an advocate. I can testify that voters often feel trapped by the choices made for them by parties and feel justified in using any small levers of power that the law will allow them to pull. Yes, Democrats uneasy about having McDaniel as senator were justified in using their primary leverage. Those were the rules going in.

There is also a tradition of backing the weaker opponent, epitomized by the 2010 Senate race in Missouri, when the very weak Claire McCaskill sought out and got the still weaker Todd Akin, flooding the airwaves with ads that he was the truest conservative, while the real conservatives were hoping he'd lose.

It worked, and Akin not only blew himself up but created a stench that infected the national party, one which still lingers on to this day. Part of the reason that Haley Barbour & Co. were so eager to lower the boom on McDaniel was that they saw him, correctly, as an Akin-in-waiting, a veritable store house of unfortunate utterance who would not only put a safe seat on the table but put the brand of the party at risk. Democrats longed to have him as their rival.

McDaniel, so incensed that crossover Democrats beat him in the runoff, might consider the thought that his razor-thin edge in the earlier race might have been swelled by still other Democrats, voting strategically for the weakest opponent. Along with his other investigations, he might want to look into that.

Noemie Emery, a Washington Examiner columnist, is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and author of "Great Expectations: The Troubled Lives of Political Families."
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