Tantamount to election
"Tantamount to election" is a phrase in the United States to describe a situation in which one political party so dominates the demographics of a voting district, that the person winning the party nomination for a race (whether by primary or another method) will virtually be assured of winning the general election. The phrase "safe seat" is commonly used to describe such a district, though "safe" refers only to the general election, especially after the breakthrough of primary elections on all nearly all levels.
The phrase originated in the American Solid South when and where the Republican Party was so weak or nonexistent that the general elections were mere formalities, the election having effectively been decided within the Democratic Party. For example, the state of Alabama, which was heavily Democratic, did not have a Republican governor or lieutenant governor between 1874 and 1987. A counterexample to this is Vermont, where no Democrat served as governor between 1854 and 1963.
The phrase "tantamount to election" may, nonetheless, be employed to describe an electoral situation in an overwhelmingly Republican area where candidates of the Democratic Party (or vice versa) are up against very steep odds. It can refer to any electoral constituency in which dominance by one party renders candidates of other parties irrelevant. Notable Democratic examples (current and former) include such areas as Chicago, San Francisco, New Orleans (from Huey Long onwards), the Bronx, Manhattan, Detroit, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Hawaii, Madison and Milwaukee in Wisconsin. Republican examples (current and former) include Nassau County, New York, rural Texas, Mingo County, West Virginia, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Utah, Idaho, East Tennessee, Waukesha County, Wisconsin, Wyoming, and Alaska.
- Political scientist Larry Sabato, e.g., uses the phrase "tantamount to election" in describing how "not a single Virginia Democrat nominated for statewide office in the primary was defeated in the general election for more than threescore years after the primary’s inception in 1905" (Sabato, quoted by Kenneth R. Plum, The changing of power in the Commonwealth, Reston Connection, 2003 April 30 [accessed 2009 December 28]).
- Jackson Baker, Jamieson, only GOP hopeful, out of race for 89, Memphis Flyer Newsweekly (Contemporary Media, Inc.), 2003 November 6 (accessed 2009 December 28). See also White primaries.
- An early instance was James A. Garfield's election to the U.S. House of Representatives from a district so Republican that the Republican nomination was considered "tantamount to election" (quoted from the Garfield biosketch on the Ohio Supreme Court site)