Primary Battle Ends as Expected

Conventional wisdom might be that a bitter primary only benefits the opposing political party, but following a surprisingly lively battle between supporters of Zachary Cohen and Jeffrey Bragman for a Democratic slot on the East Hampton Town Board ballot in November, that assumption could use some rethinking. 

Judging from many letters to the editor and even more sharply worded road signs calling him out for this or that, Mr. Cohen clearly irritated some of the people on the political scene here. The barroom brawl was hardly one-sided: Mr. Bragman took some hard hits of his own, aimed at his role in the long-ago Shadmoor development deal and in arguing against the construction of a children’s wing at the East Hampton Library. 

The case for Mr. Cohen’s challenge, however, was never sufficiently clear, certainly not obvious enough for him to pull off what would have been an upset. Mr. Cohen successfully petitioned after failing to receive the Democratic Committee’s endorsement, but primary voters tend to be the party faithful and perhaps the outcome was preordained. 

We read Tuesday’s result this way: Even though he put up good numbers, none of Mr. Cohen’s surrogates’ punches directed at Mr. Bragman landed with enough force. This may be bad news for the Republican supervisor and town board candidates, two of whom are virtually unknown to voters, and one is embroiled in a messy lawsuit in which his own ethical compass could be an issue. 

The problem for the Republicans is that Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, Tuesday’s top vote-getter who will run for a second time for town board, and Mr. Bragman have had their names before voters in advertising, lawn signs, news stories, a debate, and on social media for weeks. Negative or positive, there has not been equal attention paid to their challengers.

A functional democracy requires strong opposition. Waiting for the Democrats to self-destruct in the primary might have been part of a deliberate Republican strategy, but the G.O.P. candidates must now work overtime to catch up by Nov. 7. Getting themselves better known is something they will need to tackle head-on if they are to mount a credible bid on Election Day.