Throughout my 40ish years in political consulting, I heard at least hundreds of times voters tell me they chose a candidate as “the lesser of two evils.” There was one they saw as “just a politician” to whom they didn’t relate, while the other was generally someone who by flaws of character or understanding would do them active harm.
Those who didn’t vote at all explained that there was no one running who had anything to do with them. There is an assumption that not voting means someone isn’t paying attention or doesn’t care. That is sometimes true. Other times people know and care but choose not to participate because they do not relate to either candidate.
I understand these rationales better than ever before as I contemplate whether to participate in the June 28th run-off election between incumbent Congressman Michael Guest and ultra right challenger Michael Cassidy.
Here in Mississippi, there is no party registration and so registered voters can participate in primary and run off elections if they “intend to support the nominee.” Despite that little clause about intent, people cross party lines for strategic reasons and vote in primaries and run-off elections in either party with impunity. Democratic participation on behalf of Senator Thad Cochran was likely decisive in his victory over ultra right challenger Chris McDaniel in 2014, although many of those Democrats may indeed have supported Cochran in the fall given that the Democratic challenger fell short of 40 percent.
This year, many people I know who often vote Democratic plan to vote for Guest in the run off because Cassidy is a newcomer to Mississippi, reputedly a McDaniel protege, and vows to make Marjorie Taylor Greene a role model should he be elected to Congress.
Given that Cassidy is of questionable legislative competence and shows signs of being a pro-violent crazy, I have little doubt who is the (slightly) lesser evil. Cassidy’s main complaint against Guest, a former prosecutor, is that Guest voted for a bipartisan January 6th Commission on the recommendation of the ranking Republican of the Homeland Security Committee on which he sits. To Cassidy, that makes him a RINO. Guest also, however, applauds overturning Roe v. Wade, voted against certification of the election, and is running in the runoff on his conservative credentials, which are ample, tweeting right-wing language and no doubt figuring that if he reassures Republican voters on his MAGA-ness, he might still pick up some more progressive votes given that Cassidy is Greene-lite.
I am frustrated by the situation. I am angry at the legislature who for politically unsavory reasons carved out my little blue Jackson precinct and kept it in the 3rd CD with some of the most conservative counties in the state. I am a tad annoyed by what seemed a random article in Mississippi Today, arguably our best press outlet, that if the NAACP redistricting plan had succeeded, Guest might have lost outright. He might have won outright if he had campaigned, even without his having a couple moderate Jackson precincts where voters disagree with him, so why point to the NAACP? And I am frustrated that one of these two men – Cassidy or Guest – is likely to represent my blue precinct in Congress given the nature of the district as a whole and the (thus far) lackluster campaign of the Democratic candidate who will almost certainly get my vote in the fall. Of course, I chose to live here so that’s on me. I wish I could move my house two blocks to the west to the state’s one Democratic district.
But I just can’t vote for the lesser of these two evils. He is not lesser enough. And while the clause on intent is toothless, and Mississippi tradition almost invites my participation in the run-off, a vote for Guest would be to my mind just wrong for me. I would squirm every time he posted some racially tinged tweet, or went on an irrelevant diatribe about socialism (which is no threat here). I would remember with each squirm that I had used the little power I have – my vote – in his behalf. Cassidy would be worse, but only a little, and maybe people here would be embarrassed either by his rhetoric, or by his inability to deliver for the district (although probably not).
I respect the fortitude of those of my friends and neighbors who agree with me on issues but will vote for Guest. Maybe I will build such fortitude over time. But I just can’t do it this time.
I will take my guidance from those who don’t vote. Neither of these men have anything to with me. And I can’t support either one of them. I will stay home June 28th. And I understand better than before why some people don’t vote. Not voting is a statement too.