Losing 24th District Democratic congressional candidate Mary Pallant today sent an e-mail to supporters and the press vowing to carry on with her efforts to promote the "progressive" agenda, including a pledge to work for the election of Barack Obama.
The e-mail prompted me to think more about Marta Jorgensen's surprise victory in last Tuesday's Democratic primary. Most observers believe, and I concur, that the biggest single factor was Jorgensen's superior ballot designation -- "Educator."
But can that make all the difference?
Most, but not all. First off, Jorgensen was the only candidate from Santa Barbara County and she carried that portion of the district by a large margin -- 55 percent in a three-person race. So geography played a role, too.
Second, Pallant and fellow Ventura County candidate Jill Martinez each did a conscientious job of campaigning in Ventura County. They showed up all the forums, courted local Democratic activists and all the other things that candidates ought to do. Because they both did that, they basically split the vote of those Democratic voters in Ventura County who were paying attention. Together, they got about 56 percent of the vote in the county.
But Jorgensen clearly won the large majority of those voters who knew only what they read on the ballot -- the short, occupational descriptions of each of the candidates.
So Jorgensen benefitted also by the numbers. A good ballot designation may not be enough to win a two-candidate primary, but it can be decisive in a multi-candidate primary.
Ballot designation is much more important in a primary than in a general election. The biggest X-factor in a general election is the top of the ticket. If a Republican candidate runs well at the top of the ticket, other Republicans will generally do well, and vice versa.
That's because the more important clue to casual voters in a general election is not the ballot designation, but the party affiliation of the candidates. They usually know something about the candidates for president of governor, and their decision in those races often guides their votes in races in which they are unfamiliar with the candidates.