Anti-Establishment Mood Hits Down Ballot Race in California

The primary elections on Tuesday continued the trend of tea party and anti-establishment candidates doing well. State Representative Nikki Haley almost reached the 50% threshold in a four-way primary to avoid a runoff for the South Carolina Republican gubernatorial nomination. As anybody reading this probably knows, she was endorsed by Sarah Palin and former South Carolina First Lady Jenny Sanford, and rose to the top by running against the establishment.

In California, Meg Whitman and her unlimited bankroll racked up an impressive win against the state’s insurance commissioner, Steve Poizner, by running as an outsider who could clean up Sacramento.

The race to replace Poizner was one of the more interesting of the night on the Republican side, and a good example of the anti-establishment sentiment. Assemblyman Mike Villines, a former Assembly Republican Leader, was the presumptive nominee. His only opponent, Brian FitzGerald, is a career employee at the State Department of Insurance. (It’s not a typo. He capitalizes the G in his name on his website, www.fitzonthejob.com.) While the Los Angeles Times reports that Villines spent $228,000 on his race this year and had another $227,000 in the bank, FitzGerald reported raising zero money and spending less than $5,000 that would have triggered electronic reporting.

With all precincts reporting, Villines is currently trailing FitzGerald by 0.8%.

Some speculate that the reason for Villines’ showing was his listed occupation on the ballot as “businessman/state assemblyman.” FitzGerald listed his occupation as “department’s enforcement attorney,” referring to the Department of Insurance.

Villines earned the enmity of many conservative Republicans by agreeing in 2009 to a budget deal that included temporary tax hikes when he was the Assembly Republican Leader. He later stepped down from the leadership post as a result. While there are still some absentee and other ballots to be counted that could change the outcome of this race, it now looks likely that a candidate who spent no money will be the Republican nominee for a statewide race in California.

That thought has got to be keeping many an incumbent awake at night.

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