The Power of Presidential Primaries

Ann Heitland, First Vice-Chair, Coconino County Democratic Party

Less than one year from today, voters in nine states will cast their ballots in one of the biggest single days of the 2020 Presidential primary season. Two weeks later — on St. Patrick’s Day — we in Arizona will cast our votes in the Arizona Presidential Preference Election — Arizona’s version of a primary for Presidential candidates (our primary for other candidates remains in August).  Over the next year, we expect to see more Presidential candidates campaigning in Arizona than ever before — not only because there are more of them but also because Arizona is going to be a battleground in this election.

Yet, we are hearing that some folks don’t like primaries. They can be divisive; they can lead to disagreements with people we usually agree with. But primaries are critical to building a healthy democracy, building a winning platform, and building the diverse coalition of supporters required to win. At this critical turning point in our democracy, we can’t afford to let someone else pick our candidates — we need to be informed, involved, and vote!

Voting won’t start until 2020 but an “Invisible Primary” has already begun. Our candidates are competing for media attention, money, and grassroots momentum. Because you’re reading this, you are part of that grassroots momentum and what you do over the next several months will have an impact. Your conversations — personal, in meetings, in letters, and on social media — are powerful. Let’s use that power wisely.


Let’s hold ourselves and others accountable for a healthy, values-driven primary season. In the words of Indivisible leaders, “We all need to push back on harmful racist and sexist tropes and toxic dynamics when they affect the primary.” Let’s have a debate based on shared empathy, values, and a commitment to support the ultimate nominee. The goal, after all, is to unseat Trump and get the country back on track.

We’ve got many fine candidates to choose from and debate among them can showcase how Democratic values and plans can move the country forward. The first televised debate is in June — let’s make the event and the days before and after a positive experience for our target audience. We need people who haven’t seen the value in voting before to vote. That’s what will deliver Arizona’s Eleven Electoral Votes to the Democratic candidate and block Trump’s road to re-election.

Primaries are — or should be — about issues. We’ll be looking for the candidates to tell us which issues are priorities for them. For example, during the 2008 campaign we knew Obama was going to make health care his #1 priority after stopping the financial collapse. What will these candidates do while reversing the damage done by Trump? We hope they will pick from our list and while working on all of them, one or two have to be priorities. A healthy discussion about which issues come first will motivate voters. An unhealthy discussion will turn them off.

Hat-Tip to Indivisible National Leadership for attention to this topic.

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