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February 2008

Friday, February 29, 2008

How Did Members of Congress Score on Animal Protection in 2007?

The Humane Society Legislative Fund today posted its 2007 Humane Scorecard, and you can read it here. The scorecard, which is published annually, provides the records of U.S. Senators and U.S. Representatives on major animal welfare policies. This most recent report card covers the first session of the 110th Congress.

110_humanescorecard The Humane Scorecard provides an easy way for constituents to assess how their federal lawmakers acted on animal protection issues, and it helps chart the progress of our public policy work on behalf of animals.  Animal protection is more than ever being treated like the serious moral issue it is on Capitol Hill, and lawmakers are debating policies that have enormous implications for animals.

Last year, Congress passed measures dealing with animal fighting, chimpanzee sanctuaries, pet food safety, the Canadian seal hunt, and a war dog memorial.  Appropriators provided record levels of funding for the enforcement of animal welfare laws and support for alternatives to animal testing, cut spending for horse slaughter and trophy hunting, and directed agencies to take action on de-clawing of cats and humane slaughter of poultry. Many issues are still to be settled in 2008, including the Farm Bill, which includes animal welfare provisions dealing with dogfighting, puppy imports, and experimentation on pets.

The 2007 report scores lawmakers on their floor votes on legislation to crack down on animal fighting, protect wild horses and burros from slaughter, and stop the imports of sport-hunted polar bear trophies; their co-sponsorship of key bills such as those to stop horse slaughter, require the labeling of fur-trimmed apparel, and end the use of random source dogs and cats (including stolen pets) in research; and their signing of a letter requesting funding for enforcement of animal welfare laws. Members who led as prime sponsors of animal protection legislation receive extra credit.

We hope you’ll study this scorecard and use it as a tool to ensure that your legislators represent your interests in Washington, D.C. Let legislators know that you’re watching and you appreciate their support for pro-animal legislation; or if they haven’t done enough, let them know you’d like to see them do more. Here are some of my favorite highlights from the 2007 Humane Scorecard:

  • A bipartisan group of 31 Senators and 100 Representatives covering 38 states led as prime sponsors of pro-animal legislation and/or scored a perfect 100—nearly one third of the Senate and one quarter of the House.
  • The average Senate score was a 43, with Senate Democrats averaging 60, and Senate Republicans averaging 24.
  • The average House score was a 53, with House Democrats averaging 71, and House Republicans averaging 33.
  • Seventeen Senators scored 100 or 100+ (13 Democrats, 4 Republicans).
  • Thirty-one Senators scored zero (7 Democrats, 24 Republicans).
  • Eighty-three Representatives scored 100 or 100+ (69 Democrats, 14 Republicans).
  • Thirty-seven Representatives scored zero (3 Democrats, 34 Republicans).
  • The New England region led the pack with an average Senate score of 75 and an average House score of 89.
  • The Rocky Mountains were at the bottom with an average Senate score of 13 and an average House score of 27.
  • California, Maine, Massachusetts, and New Jersey are the only states in which both Senators scored 100 or 100+.
  • Alabama, Idaho, Kentucky, Montana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, and Wyoming are the only states in which both Senators scored zero.
  • Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island are the only states with an average House score of 90 or above.
  • Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Utah are the only states with an average House score below 20.

I would especially like to acknowledge the following 8 Senators and 24 Representatives who scored the highest possible 100+ for receiving a perfect score and also leading on animal protection legislation:

  • Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.)
  • Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio)
  • Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.)
  • Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine)
  • Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.)
  • Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.)
  • Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.)
  • Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.)
  • Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.)
  • Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.)
  • Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.)
  • Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.)
  • Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.)
  • Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.)
  • Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.)
  • Rep. Mike Ferguson (R-N.J.)
  • Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.)
  • Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.)
  • Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.)
  • Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.)
  • Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.)
  • Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.)
  • Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.)
  • Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.)
  • Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.)
  • Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.)
  • Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.)
  • Rep. Chris Shays (R-Conn.)
  • Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.)
  • Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.)
  • Rep. Betty Sutton (D-Ohio)
  • Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.)

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Yes We Can—Stop Puppy Mills

A new book scheduled for release this summer—“A Rare Breed of Love” by my good friend Jana Kohl—will change the face of the puppy mill debate in this country.  It’s the touching story of Baby, a poodle who survived a grueling decade in a northern California puppy mill factory, trapped in a tiny cage, churning out litter after litter for commercial sale.

Baby was slated to be put down after outliving her productivity, but she was lucky enough to be rescued and adopted by Jana. One of Baby’s legs had been so badly mangled in her former cage that it had to be amputated, and her vocal cords had been cut so the puppy mill owners did not have to listen to the dog's constant cries to be let out of her cage.

Obama_3 Baby now travels the country as a three-legged ambassador for puppy mill dogs everywhere, and she is pictured in the book spreading the word with celebrities such as Lindsay Lohan, Moby, Bill Maher, Amy Sedaris, Alice Walker, and Judge Judy.  Baby has also visited legislators and lobbied for animals on Capitol Hill. A few months after the book hits the shelves, in fact, there’s a chance Baby might have access to the White House—because one of the lawmakers featured prominently in the book is Senator Barack Obama. 

In a striking photo, Obama stands in front of the Lincoln Memorial, cradling Baby in his arms, lending his voice to the campaign to stop puppy mills. The solemn setting is a reminder of causes that are worth fighting for, and the image of battered Baby safe in Obama’s embrace sends the message that change is possible for these creatures, too.

If there’s any animal issue that needs public exposure, it’s this one. People who are seduced by puppy dog eyes at a pet store often don’t know that puppy’s mom is trapped in a cage, just like Baby was, at a puppy mill. These factory farms treat dogs like production machines, and the animals receive no socialization or human companionship. They’re not pets—they’re a cash crop.

While consumers need to take action by not purchasing dogs obtained from puppy mills, we need good public policies to stop the worst abuses, too. Senator Obama, in his response to a questionnaire from the Humane Society Legislative Fund, indicated his support for reforms to crack down on puppy mills, close loopholes that allow many puppy mills to escape federal regulation, and provide better enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act. He also supports legislation led by fellow Illinois Senator Dick Durbin to stop the imports of young puppies from foreign puppy mills—puppies from China, Russia, and Mexico who are shipped at just weeks old, exposed to extreme temperatures in airplane cargo holds and sometimes arriving in this country sick or dead.

Senator Obama doesn’t currently have pets, but holding Baby, he looks like a natural. And he has said that he promised his daughters they could get a dog when the campaign is over, providing a new opportunity to set an example as a responsible pet owner. By adopting a dog from an animal shelter or rescue group, Obama can send a powerful message that puppy mill cruelty is unacceptable. It’s a message of hope and change for all the dogs like Baby.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

It's Not Super Tuesday, It's Spay Day USA

Att14746484Voting is in the air this season. With competitive races in both parties, Americans have had an unusually long primary season, and it's still not over yet on the Democratic side. Voters in Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas, and Vermont take their turn at the polls next Tuesday.

Dsc00021_small_2 There are no state primaries this week, but there is a particularly special event to focus attention on—and it allows you to cast your vote, no matter where you live. Today is the 14th annual Spay Day USA, a national event that seeks to end the tragedy of too many pets and not enough homes. Thousands of kittens and puppies are born every hour in the United States, and millions are euthanized in animal shelters or die on the streets each year. Spaying or neutering our pets and feral cats is the most effective way to ensure their offspring won’t be born only to die prematurely and without a family who loves them.

Dsc00322_small At Spay Day events around the country, local groups and veterinarians will host various activities for the public to engage in, including free and low-cost spay and neuter services for those in need of financial assistance.  You can participate by finding an event near you. You can also enter the Spay Day USA pet photo contest, by uploading a digital photo of your pet and briefly describing how he or she has improved your life. Compete for prizes—and spread the message of spaying and neutering—by forwarding your pet’s photo to friends and family and asking them to vote. (The contest ends on March 7.)

Dsc00605_small You can vote in the contest by browsing the thousands of pet photos, or searching by pet’s name, owner’s last name, city, state, or country. For example, you could search for “Markarian,” and then vote for the four best-looking felines in the contest—Georgia, Mario, Misty, and Oliver. It’s just a modest suggestion, of course. As Al Capone said in Chicago, “Vote early and vote often!”

Monday, February 25, 2008

Hunting for Votes

Gail Collins had her trenchant wit on full display in a weekend op-ed column, “A Bad Year to Be a Mallard,” in the New York Times. She aptly noted, “There is something about an election year that makes politicians start bragging about how many furry or feathered critters they’ve killed.” Other bloggers and journalists, like Mick LaSalle in the San Francisco Chronicle, have weighed in on this “quadrennial psychosis.”

Huckabee_huntingOf course, it’s not uncommon to see presidential candidates trot out their hunting bona fides and brag about their prowess as sportsmen—and, by coincidence, it tends to happen in the days leading up to primaries and caucuses in rural states like Iowa and Wisconsin. It’s a wonder, though, that candidates still feel obligated to pander to the gun lobby. It may have been a sound strategy when the likes of Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern, and Richard Nixon were stumping on the trail, but it should be a relic of campaigns past as the number of hunters has been on a steady decline since the 1970s.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, there were 16.6 million hunters in 1975 and there are just 12.5 million today. While the adult U.S. population increased by 46 percent over the last two decades, the number of hunters dropped by 25 percent. During that same time period, the number of people who participate in observing, feeding, and photographing wildlife has climbed, now numbering 71 million.

Our relationship with animals is changing, and the numbers reflect that change. Hunters now represent 5.5 percent of Americans 16 years and older, while wildlife watchers outnumber them by almost six-to-one, making up 31 percent. Even in some of the biggest hunting states, which will hold their party primaries next week, wildlife watchers outnumber hunters by four-to-one in Texas and by seven-to-one in Ohio. Wildlife watchers also contribute more money than hunters to the economy.

While fewer Americans are hunting each year, more and more people are celebrating animals in numerous ways. Two-thirds of American households have pets, and spend $41 billion annually on pet care and products—more than they spend on movies, video games, and recorded music combined. There are more than 272 million annual visitors to national parks, where people go to see the beautiful mountains and valleys, but also to see the animals in their natural habitat. There are more than 143 million visitors to accredited zoos and aquariums, where people go to see the animals, too. 

Let’s hope that presidential candidates pay attention to these social trends, and show us that they are candidates of the future, not of the past. The day will come when presidential hopefuls won't try to appeal to voters by dressing up in camo and stalking creatures in the woods. They will show their compassion, instead, by visiting a local animal shelter, with the television cameras in tow, and adopting a dog or cat.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Power to the People

If there’s one thing we’ve learned from the investigation into the torture of crippled cows and the largest recall of beef in U.S. history, it’s that the agribusiness industry can’t be trusted to regulate itself.  Left to its own devices without proper government inspections and enforcement of laws and regulations related to animals and the environment, some in the sector will not exhibit self-restraint, but instead will stoop to any low just to squeeze out a few extra pennies of profit.

Battery_cage That’s why it’s especially appalling that Arizona lawmakers are now making a move to give more power to the agribusiness lobby, and to strip decisions away from people in local communities. Yesterday the state Senate’s Natural Resources and Rural Affairs Committee voted 5 to 2 in favor of S.B. 1373, which would create an industry-stacked Arizona Poultry Husbandry Council with authority over poultry practices—such as the confinement of egg-laying hens in cages so small they can’t even turn around or stretch their wings—and would prevent cities, towns, and counties from enacting any animal welfare measures for these birds.

It’s exactly the inverse of good public policy, at a time when lawmakers should tighten the safeguards for food safety and animal welfare, not give away the literal and proverbial keys to the henhouse. It’s a cynical and underhanded power grab by livestock lobbyists and their allies in the legislature.

The good news is that Arizona voters are fiercely independent, and don’t roll over quietly when asked to transfer their rights to industries. The new proposal is similar to a bill defeated in 2006—after being introduced by the same senator—which would have stripped the legislature and voters of their authority to enact common sense laws preventing cruelty to farm animals. At the time, the Arizona Republic called it “a rude legislative noise that is offensive to every Arizonan.” The Arizona Daily Star noted that the bill was “especially arrogant.”

Fence2 The trophy hunting lobby tried to pull the same thing back in 2000, and placed a measure on the statewide ballot seeking to restrict the rights of Arizona citizens to vote on any future proposal related to wildlife protection.  Proposition 102 was disguised as a wildlife conservation measure, but would have provided lasting insulation for canned hunts, steel-jawed leghold traps, and other abusive practices. Arizonans saw through the malarkey, and shot it down by a vote of 38 to 62 percent.

These industry power grabs have played out in Congress, too. Last year, an early draft of the Farm Bill included language that could have stricken numerous state and local laws—ranging from prohibitions against horse slaughter to bans on the cruel treatment of farm animals. Section 123 was so broad that it could have been used to threaten animal welfare laws that do not even relate to food production, such as restricting abusive puppy mills and the ownership of dangerous exotic pets. Thankfully, the House Agriculture Committee removed this dangerous and far-reaching provision from the Farm Bill.

Let’s hope that Arizona lawmakers exhibit the same wisdom when it comes to the rights of local communities to make decisions on food safety and animal welfare. If you live in Arizona, tell your legislators to slaughter this terrible and backwards idea.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Presidential Candidates Ask, "Where’s the Beef?"

In the wake of the nation’s largest beef recall in history, food safety and animal welfare have become part of presidential campaign season. I wrote yesterday that Senator Hillary Clinton issued a statement calling for better safeguards in our food inspection system. CNN has a video of Clinton at a campaign stop in De Pere, Wisconsin—the second largest dairy state—talking about the recall of beef from sick and injured dairy cows. 

Senator Barack Obama also released a statement on the recall, offering his comments on the importance of protecting the health and safety of schoolchildren and protecting animals from cruelty. Here's what he said:

“Although the Department of Agriculture has now recalled the tainted beef, an estimated 37 million pounds has gone to school lunch programs, and unfortunately, officials believe that most of the meat has already been consumed by schoolchildren.  This incident demonstrates yet again the inadequacy of the food recall process.  Far too often, tainted food is not recalled until too late.

“When I am President, it will not be business as usual when it comes to food safety.  I will provide additional resources to hire more federal food inspectors.  I will also call on the Department of Agriculture to examine whether federal food safety laws need to be strengthened, in particular to provide greater protections against tainted food being used in the National School Lunch Program. 

“As the parent of two young daughters, there are few issues more important to me than ensuring the safety of the food that our children consume.  I commend the Humane Society of the United States for bringing this important issue to the public attention and believe that the mistreatment of downed cows is unacceptable and poses a serious threat to public health.”

We’re grateful to Senators Clinton and Obama for calling attention to this national scandal, and promising to do better—for people and for animals—if they are elected.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Beef Recall and Presidential Politics

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced a massive recall of 143 million pounds of beef—four times larger than what was previously the biggest beef recall in the nation’s history—after revelations that sick and injured cows were abused in horrifying ways and fed to the nation’s school children and other consumers. Senator Hillary Clinton has become the first presidential candidate to voice concern over the downed cow scandal, and she released a statement last night which is reprinted here in its entirety:

“The news today of the largest beef recall in our nation’s history is yet another troubling reminder that we have done too little to protect our food supply.  This incident also reveals a danger to our children, since the Hallmark company is the second largest supplier to the U.S. School Lunch program.  I believe that American families should not have to worry about the safety of the food on their dinner tables or in their children's school lunches.  That is why I have long been calling for common-sense – and long-overdue – food safety reforms, building on my work in the Senate.  As President, I will fully fund our food safety system so that our inspectors have the resources and manpower they need to do their jobs.  I will create a single food safety to replace the patchwork of regulation we have now.  I will implement an effective recall system so that potentially tainted food immediately comes off of grocery store shelves and families receive instant notification.  I will strictly enforce safety rules and impose stiff criminal and civil penalties on violators.  And I will crack down on the slaughter of sick or injured cows, a practice which poses health risks to families and children.  Now more than ever, America needs a President who will deliver concrete reforms that fill the gaps in our food safety system.”

This isn’t the first presidential election in which downed animals have become part of the national discourse. In December 2003, the first cow in the United States tested positive for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE or “mad cow disease”), and as humane groups had long predicted, the contaminated animal was a downer. Presidential candidates stumping on the campaign trail at that time—including Howard Dean, Dick Gephardt, and John Kerry—criticized the Bush administration for failing to protect the nation’s food supply.

Cow_downed3Four years later, the USDA’s regulations and policies still fail to adequately deter the type of inhumane handling this investigation and recall have demonstrated in graphic and appalling detail. The current rules—which undermine animal welfare and jeopardize human health—require immediate review and revision.

The next president can undertake vigorous policy and regulatory reforms that will uphold the spirit and the letter of our humane slaughter laws, and can redirect USDA resources to ensure that inspectors are observing animals and addressing any inhumane treatment on a continuous basis. Other presidential hopefuls should follow Clinton’s lead and send the message that the next administration will make it a priority to protect animal welfare and food safety.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Criminal Charges over Crippled Cows

The San Bernardino County District Attorney filed criminal charges Friday against two slaughter plant workers who abused cows too sick or injured to stand up, as revealed in recent weeks by a shocking undercover investigation by The Humane Society of the United States. The charges included felony counts of cruelty to animals and misdemeanor counts of violating California’s law on downed animals, and it’s the first time to my knowledge that such charges have been filed against employees of a slaughterhouse.

My hat is off to District Attorney Michael A. Ramos, Deputy District Attorney Deborah Ploghaus, the Inland Valley Humane Society, and Chino Police Department, who worked together to investigate this case and take action. It’s meaningless to have animal protection laws on the books unless they are appropriately enforced. Passing humane laws is the first step, but having law enforcement officials who uphold the standards set by those laws is an important component of good public policy.

281x190_calif_downer24"I need the public to understand that my office takes all cases involving animal cruelty very seriously," said District Attorney Ramos. "It doesn't matter whether the mistreated animal is a beloved family pet or a cow at a slaughterhouse. Unnecessary cruelty will not be tolerated and will be prosecuted to the fullest extent allowed by law."

Given the national impact of this case and the economic costs borne by taxpayers as more than 150 school districts and the U.S. Department of Agriculture scrambled to keep tainted beef out of the food supply, I hope the investigation won’t stop here. Law enforcement authorities should aggressively pursue any possible leads that point to culpability by the company itself and its senior executives.

Members of Congress, too, continue to weigh in and call for further investigation. Thursday, Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Representatives George Miller (D-Calif.), Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), and Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) asked the General Accounting Office to examine the safety of food provided through the National School Lunch Program. This comes in addition to the USDA’s own investigation and its shuttering of the slaughter plant, as lawmakers expressed the need for a more independent assessment of the government’s ability to protect students from contaminated food.

“I’m not sure it can be dealt with with just the department investigating itself,” Rep. Miller, chairman of the Education and Labor Committee, told the Los Angeles Times. “Ever since mad cow we’ve asked for better tracking systems for beef so we can inform consumers in a real-time fashion… but parents are constantly in situations with lack of information.”

Thanks to legislative leaders and law enforcement officials for following through on the food safety and animal welfare problems uncovered by this investigation, and working to see both that justice is served and that USDA takes a fresh look at its policies and procedures related to slaughterhouses.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Motor City Madness

At the Humane Society Legislative Fund, one of our goals is to let constituents know where their elected officials stand on animal protection issues. We publish the Humane Scorecard, which tracks legislators’ voting records and co-sponsorships on key animal welfare measures. We celebrate lawmakers who use their skills and talents to advance the humane treatment of animals, and we hold those accountable who are hostile to modest and common-sense reforms to stop cruelty and abuse.

Today, the Oakland Press in Michigan published a guest column by me on Republican Congressman Joe Knollenberg’s record on animal protection. Knollenberg represents a suburban district with an animal-friendly constituency, yet perplexingly he has amassed one of the worst records on animal cruelty issues in Congress. You can read the opinion piece here.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Shakeup in the Chesapeake

When the early returns trickled in last night in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, it was clear that Senators Barack Obama and John McCain would sweep the Potomac Primary. But there were a couple other Chesapeake Challenges that captured my attention all night long, and weren’t settled until early this morning. Two of Maryland’s members of Congress, Republican Wayne Gilchrest and Democrat Al Wynn, were edged out by rivals in their primary fights, and it may be the first sign of an anti-incumbent wave across the country.

427pxwayne_gilchrest_of_maryland_ofThe Humane Society Legislative Fund had endorsed Wayne Gilchrest in the Republican primary for Maryland’s 1st Congressional District, and had sent mail to thousands of Republican voters letting them know that Gilchrest has stood up for the humane treatment of animals in a very determined way. During his time in Congress, he co-sponsored and supported dozens of bills to protect animals, including those to toughen penalties for animal fighting, stop horse slaughter, require truthful labeling of fur-trimmed apparel, protect pets in disasters, crack down on abusive puppy mills, halt the trade in bear parts, and stop the trophy hunting of captive exotic animals.

Gilchrest lost by just 8,000 votes to Andy Harris, who in contrast has been an enemy of animal welfare. In the Maryland state Senate, Harris has continuously opposed common-sense measures to protect pets, wildlife, and farm animals. He cast his vote against bills to ban the cruel confinement of farm animals in tiny gestation crates on industrial factory farms, restrict the continued chaining and tethering of dogs outside, allow people to establish trust funds to provide lifetime care for their companion animals, and stop the use of steel-jawed leghold traps that kill and injure wildlife and family pets. Remarkably, he was even one of a handful of state lawmakers across the country who opposed legislation to ban Internet hunting, the shooting of live animals remotely from a home computer. Harris will now face off against the Democratic victor, State’s Attorney Frank Kratovil, in the general election this November.

Gilchrest had never been a 100 percent supporter of animal welfare, but he had been on the side of animals most of the time. One of our guiding principles at HSLF is that our endorsements are not about orthodoxy, but rather are about choosing the best candidate among those who are viable in any particular contest. We consider the composition of the candidate’s district, a legislator’s committee assignments or leadership on an issue, and many other factors. But as a threshold matter, we’d take a 60 or 70 percent over a zero any day of the week. As a senior Republican on the Natural Resources Committee, Rep. Gilchrest had been in a position to make a meaningful impact on environmental and wildlife protection policy, and we are grateful for all his efforts on behalf of animals.

Donna_edwards_2 In Maryland’s 4th Congressional District, the race was not as close, and Al Wynn lost to nonprofit executive Donna Edwards by 22,000 votes. Rep. Wynn has also been a strong supporter of animal protection, consistently scoring a perfect 100 percent on the Humane Scorecard, though he has not been a leader on any of our issues. In this heavily Democratic district, Edwards is almost assured of winning the general election in November and being newly elected to the 111th Congress.  She has an outstanding record on environmental protection issues, and we expect her also to be a stalwart supporter of animal protection.  In fact, we hope she'll be a leader on our issues, more so than Rep. Wynn has been.

Animal advocates should continue to watch these primary battles closely, especially in districts that are solid Democratic or Republican districts.  In those districts, all the action is in the primary, and a small number of voters typically exert enormous influence on the outcomes.

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