Gov: Campaigns and Elections


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Primary elections choose a political party’s nominees. Before primary elections, nominees were often selected by party leaders who met behind closed doors. Primary elections brought the selection process out into the open and allowed party members to participate. Primary elections take several forms. States with a closed primary limit voting to registered party members. Independents are not allowed to participate. States with an open primary allow all voters to vote in primary elections. In this system, voters decide which party primary to vote in on Election Day. Independent voters like this system because it allows them to participate in the primary of their choice. In a blanket primary, voters can pick and choose one candidate for each office from any party’s primary list. In a nonpartisan primary, if one candidate wins a majority, that person takes office. If not, the two top vote-getters face each other in the general election.

To participate in a primary, the person running for office must become a declared candidate. Candidates simply declare their interest in seeking election to a public office. Self-announcement is usually done at a press conference or other public event. Before making a formal announcement, however, the candidate may form an exploratory committee. Exploratory committees test the waters and determine the level of public support for their candidate. If the committee decides that circumstances are favorable, the candidate makes a formal announcement of candidacy. Some candidates do not self-announce. They wait for a groundswell of public support for their candidacy and allow their supporters to draft them into the race.

For presidential candidates, announcements are sometimes made as early as two years before the election. Candidates give themselves extra time to raise the funds and the support they will need for the hard campaign ahead.  

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