Hurray! D.C. Matters!

Why nobody ever noticed the D.C. primaries before.

While we await the results of the Potomac Primary, let me bow my head before the election gods humbly to offer a word of thanks. I’ve resided within the District of Columbia for a quarter century. During that time, no one has ever given a rat’s ass who won the D.C. primaries. On those few occasions when the primaries were held before the nominations were sewn up, the D.C. primaries still generated zero interest because only a handful of delegates were at stake. (This year it’s technically 10 but in reality 15, due to rules and procedures I don’t pretend to understand.) Plus, D.C. was judged an anomaly. No other primaries, nor state votes in the general election, were held in a majority-black jurisdiction. D.C. was too African-American, too Democratic, and way too liberal to tell you anything about how the “real” America would vote.

Even I didn’t care who won the D.C. primaries (though I did care about voting, if only as a civic sacrament). I am a registered Democrat. In the 2004 Democratic primary, Howard Dean edged out Al Sharpton, 43 percent to 34 percent. The eventual party nominee, John Kerry, didn’t even appear on the ballot. Did I notice? I can’t remember. I didn’t vote in that primary because on the day in question—my birthday, as it happened, and also my wife’s—we were vacationing abroad in a sunny clime, and we’d lacked the organizational skills to vote absentee before departing. Anyway, the primary was nonbinding. Did I know that at the time? I can’t remember.

D.C. primaries were like that.

This year it’s different. The Democratic nomination fight remains undecided; the delegate counts are excruciatingly close; and someone came up with the clever idea of scheduling the D.C., Virginia, and Maryland primaries on the same day and calling the whole ball of wax the Potomac primary. Why didn’t we think of this before?

There isn’t much suspense about the outcome, since Obama is heavily favored to win D.C. and will probably win Virginia and Maryland, too. But candidates have actually been campaigning here! Such behavior is highly unusual within our nation’s capital and its suburbs, and among my supposedly jaded fellow Washingtonians I’ve noticed a slightly sheepish buzz of excitement about the rallies and the bunting and the speeches. Campaign rallies are something we Washingtonians travel to see in other states, not anything we expect to witness in our own backyard. But they’re here! What a gas!

Is this what it’s like to be a state?