By Rebecca Heilweil
When David Dodson, a part-time business lecturer at Stanford, challenged for Sen. John Barrasso's seat last year in his home state of Wyoming, he assumed the best man would win. Dodson had originally planned to run unaffiliated, but after voters expressed concern that an independent run could split the conservative vote, he registered as a Republican. "I sort of naively thought I'd have a fair fight," Dodson told Cheddar.
But instead, Dodson says he found "1,000 little bear traps" that denied him a fair shot. "The Republican party was very specific that they were not going to let me win. It was everything from the debate formats, to not letting me speak at certain events, to restricting funding," said Dodson. Another challenge is that political campaign donations are generally public, leaving some afraid to fund challenger candidates.
In a New York Times op-ed yesterday, Dodson argued that political parties had effectively become "monopolies" that shut out challenger candidates. He argues that competition-free primary elections could harm the democratic process since the overwhelming majority of U.S. Congressional districts are solidly Republican or Democrat and aren't competitive in the general election.
Dodson is calling for nonpartisan committees to "take control of the taxpayer-financed primary process and run a single primary ballot, forcing incumbents to compete with members of the opposing party as well as of their own party." He also supports creating federal term limits and ending partisan gerrymandering.
The former Senate candidate admits that these changes would need to be instituted through a constitutional amendment, but pointed out that nine of the past 12 constitutional amendments have concerned voting rights.
However, the opposition, he said, didn't just come directly from the party. "I couldn't find a law firm because every law firm that works for Republicans said I can't do business with you because if I do business with you I'll be blackballed," said Dodson.
The criticism that parties are shutting out challenger candidates isn't aimed only at Republicans. "Protecting incumbents from their voters is one thing the Democrats and Republicans can still agree on," wrote Dodson in his op-ed.
In March, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which raises money for Democratic politicians, announced that it would blacklist vendors that worked with primary challengers to incumbent Democrats. That rule would make it more difficult for challengers, such as last year's surprise winner Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, to build up a campaign infrastructure.
"When you have a situation where 88 percent of the House districts are not competitive in the general election, only in the primary. And you allow the individual party to run the primary system, that's not the thumb on the scale. That's having the foot on the scale," said Dodson.
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