CONSEQUENCES OF ENDING CALIFORNIA’S PARTY PRIMARY ELECTIONS

By Steve Arthur, Vice President

In addition to settling on their respective party candidates for the general election, California voters also decided to make the June 8 primary the last in which party candidates will be chosen in a primary. Voters passed Proposition 14, which will put all primary candidates on one ballot and the top two vote getters will advance to the general election regardless of party.

While proponents have argued that this change will help elect more moderate officials by forcing candidates to advocate middle of the road positions to advance beyond the primary, some political analysts think the impact will be much less (http://bit.ly/9XzpvK). We may just have to wait until the 2012 elections to find out which view is correct

However, what may have to change are some corporation and trade association political giving strategies. A common strategy now is to wait until after the primaries to engage in the political process. In addition to conserving limited contribution dollars, this policy avoids having to take sides in a primary campaign when the candidates may have very similar views on issues important to that business or trade association.

The open primary is likely to force a change to that strategy. Under an open primary, candidates will need to treat that election as the general election if there are multiple candidates. In addition, even if there are only two credible candidates, they will be pushing to collect early campaign contributions to help run a campaign that will increase their margin of victory in the primary. By doing this, they will portray themselves as the overwhelming favorite in November, which becomes reality if their opponents’ potential donors see the race that way and decline to give.

If the Proposition 14 proponents’ hopes come true, the business community and labor might both start supporting moderate candidates in races that wouldn’t be competitive under the current system. Under the new system, business groups might see an opportunity to support a moderate Democrat that wouldn’t have a chance in a liberal Democratic primary, but might be able to win a general election. At the same time, labor might see an opportunity to knock off a staunchly anti-labor legislator that would cruise to re-election in a Republican district. This means that both of those seats need to be considered for campaign help when one was a lost cause and the other a shoe-in. If you are involved in budgeting for political contributions, you better keep this in mind for your 2011 and 2012 budgets.

To further complicate matters, both parties have indicated they are likely to make endorsements before the primary at conventions or some other process. This means once an endorsement has been made, you may be getting phone calls from party leadership encouraging you to only give to their preferred candidate. Therefore, Proposition 14 is likely to increase political contributions and political headaches.

UPDATE: An update on my post of the California Insurance Commissioner race earlier this month. As counties continue to count absentee and provisional ballots, Mike Villines has now pulled ahead of Brian FitzGerald by less than 7000 votes out of 1.8 million votes counted. The race is still too close to call, so there is hope after all for those who might be identified as “establishment” politicians.

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