The lonely caucus

Primaries are a better way to pick party nominees.

With little fanfare, fewer than 45,000 Minnesotans gathered at precinct caucuses last week to begin the process of selecting each partyâÄôs nominee for governor and shaping party platforms. The low turnout was a far cry from the overflowing auditoriums and church basements we saw in the 2008 caucuses. The low turnout comes from a public and media hyperfocused on national politics, rather than more proximate state politics. The caucuses also lack relevance today. Despite their importance in picking party nominees, there is little chance that all candidates will ultimately abide by the party choice; later primaries inevitably do more to shape the outcome of the race. Candidates who choose to bypass the caucus process correctly assume that a wider voting public will react to them differently than convention delegates. Caucus-goers tend to be among the most committed party members, and their attitudes tend to be more polarized than average votersâÄô. The dominance of these true believers skews the parties toward the poles and makes common ground that much more elusive. Primaries, while messy for party elites, provide for wider public input and discourage ideological purity. Candidates who win a crowded primary also benefit from campaign experience and media attention. In President Barack ObamaâÄôs case, he emerged from his grueling fight with Hillary Clinton a better vetted, more capable candidate. Pending legislation would move the stateâÄôs primary up from Sept. 18 to Aug. 10. This is a first step to limiting the power of the undemocratic party nominating system, but it is not enough. Minnesota should join dozens of states that hold primaries in May or June.