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Calif. elections in fall will see some districts where two members of same party face off

Published: Thursday, June 7, 2012

Updated: Thursday, June 7, 2012 11:06


SACRAMENTO, Calif. _ As many as 29 California legislative and congressional districts will see two members of the same party compete in the November general election, a function of new balloting rules that made a statewide debut in Tuesday's primary.
Hundreds of thousands of votes remain to be counted around the state, and the results in a handful of races could change. But clear trends emerged. Incumbents survived. Not one failed to at least make the runoff.
Business groups fared better navigating the top-two terrain than did their adversaries in organized labor, delivering wins for some moderate Democrats. A handful of Republicans who refused to sign a no-tax pledge also secured top-two spots.
And supporters of the new primary system said the number of same-party runoffs could make good on their argument that the change will force candidates to run and govern in a way that appeals to a broader spectrum of voters.
Winning the general election in those districts, they said, will require picking up support from independents and voters from the opposing party.
"Whatever the tactics are, they will have to speak to the entire electorate for the first time ever," said GOP consultant Aaron McLear, a former aide to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who pushed for the primary changes. "And what that means is they will have to make promises that are not just to the extreme of their party; they are going to have to make promises to the entire electorate that they will be held accountable for."
Efforts to reach across the aisle already appeared in some primary races, as candidates vied against rivals of all political leanings on the same ballot.
Mailers supporting Democratic Rep. Howard Berman over fellow Democratic Rep. Brad Sherman in a San Fernando Valley slugfest touted endorsements from prominent area Republicans. Berman came in second, but the two congressmen will face off again in November.
"The smart campaigns already began talking to (voters from all parties) in the primary," said Steve Peace, a former legislator who helped draft the ballot measure that changed the primary. "The earlier you are going to start communicating to voters, the more likely they are going to start listening to you."
Some candidates in same-party runoffs could still win by focusing on more partisan voters in districts where registration overwhelmingly favors Democrats or Republicans.
Former Republican Assemblyman Rico Oller, who came in first in the 5th Assembly District, said he doesn't plan to do anything differently to reach out to crossover voters, stressing that he'll put the same "set of values and the same principles" he pitched in the primary on display in November.
He'll face Madera County Supervisor Frank Bigelow, a Republican who hasn't signed a no-tax pledge.
Bigelow said voters he has met so far are "excited about the fact that I am not going to buy into gimmicks, I'm not going to play games.
"It doesn't fit for me," he said. "I don't need a crutch. I don't need a piece of paper to remind me what's right or wrong."
For many voters, casting a ballot for a candidate with a different party label may be a tough sell.
"It's like taking your vegetarian friend to Morton's and telling them they should order the chicken, not the steak," said Democratic consultant Paul Mitchell, adding that some voters may opt to take a pass on races where both candidates declare a party preference other than their own.
Democrats need to carry two of four swing seats to secure a two-thirds supermajority in the state Senate, which could allow them to approve tax increases in that house without Republican votes. A victory Tuesday for Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg's recruit in a Riverside County swing seat could improve their chances.
But the power of a supermajority "only matters if everyone is marching along party lines," McLear said. He noted that the successes of Democratic candidates backed by interests other than traditional labor allies could result in a more ideologically diverse and unpredictable caucus.
"With the open primary, now you're going to have some folks who are kind of wild cards," said. "You don't know how they're going to vote."
Committees backed by business, including the California Chamber of Commerce's PAC, scored wins by helping several moderate Democrats make the runoff, including 13th Assembly District candidate Susan Eggman, who drew opposition from some labor unions for votes she made on the Stockton City Council.
Another Democratic candidate supported by CalChamber, Orange County Clerk-Recorder Tom Daly, came in first in the 69th Assembly District, where labor-backed Democrat Julio Perez failed to make the runoff.
Spending by labor unions in the primary was not considered as heavy, a sign that some said indicates they are conserving resources for a ballot fight over a November measure that would ban the use of payroll deductions for political spending.
"They did not spend the big bucks in the primary that they did in the past and they're saving that (for) November," said California Target Book publisher Allan Hoffenblum, who handicaps races. "They kept their powder dry."

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