Blagojevich's Primary Problem

Here's a little political footnote to the disgrace of Rod Blagojevich in Illinois. Looking back in recent history for even a rough parallel, the ...
by | December 11, 2008
 

Here's a little political footnote to the disgrace of Rod Blagojevich in Illinois. Looking back in recent history for even a rough parallel, the only one I find is the case of Governor Ray Blanton of Tennessee, who at the end of his term in the 1970s was accused of selling pardons to prison inmates, and had to be hustled out of office early to prevent him from selling more.

Blagojevich and Blanton have very little in common as politicians, but they made it to office under similar rules. They were running for governor as candidates in the majority party in a situation where no one needed 50 percent of the vote. Blagojevich was nominated with 36 percent in 2002; Blanton got only 23 percent in 1974, the lowest winning percentage I can find in any gubernatorial election ever.

There was no way either of them could have won a majority in a runoff against any credible opponent, but in a multi-candidate, no runoff situation, they sneaked through to nomination. Then, as the nominee of the majority party, they made it to an office that most people in the state, even at the time, didn't believe they were qualified for.

My only point is this: Cumbersome and expensive as runoffs may be, there's a benefit to coming out with a nominee who possesses wide-ranging support. If you let somebody slip into office on a primary showing of 23 percent (or even 36 percent) you increase dramatically the prospects for incompetence, corruption, or both. 

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