Post-election developments before the summer campaign lull...
A PATH THROUGH THE JUNGLE -- Much of the post-election analyses in California has centered on what the primary election results indicate about the prospects for congressional elections in the fall. As a couple of earlier posts have noted, the basic narrative has been this: Republicans say the results show they are at parity in the new congressional district landscape, and that Democrats have no chance at picking up the 4 to 6 seats they had originally hoped to gain. Democrats say they're still in pretty good shape.
One provocative analysis comes from the National Journal, which sought to place the June 5 results in some historical perspective. The Journal article notes that, while this was the first top-two primary in the state, California had something very much like it in place in 1998 and 2000. Those two primaries were conducted under rules (since tossed out by the U.S. Supreme Court, which held they were unconstitutional) that allowed every voter to choose from among all candidates, regardless of party. The political pros called it a jungle primary. The key difference from today's top-two primary was that all the valid political parties that fielded a candidate were guaranteed a place on the November ballot.
Examining the results from the 1998 and 2000 primaries, the Journal found that "Democratic general election candidates were far more likely to improve upon their primary showings (and to improve by a greater extent) than were Republicans." In other words, the article used actual historical data to try to validate the Democrats' assertion that they will fare far better in November, when voter turnout will be much higher.
Intrigued by this analytical approach, I decided to test it on a candidate who competed in 1998, in 2000, and is a candidate again this year -- Republican Tony Strickland, running against Democrat Julia Brownley in the 26th Congressional District.
Strickland ran for the Assembly in 1998 and 2000 in a district that was geographically similar, but smaller, to the current congressional district.
In the June 1998 primary, Strickland won the Republican nomination in a crowded GOP field. He received 27.7 percent of the vote. More significantly, the Republican candidates combined received 64 percent. The sole Democrat, Roz McGrath, received 36 percent. In the general election, the Democratic share rose to 47.6 while the Republican share dropped to 48.9 percent, as Strickland beat McGrath in a very close race.
In the March 2000 primary, the same two were on the ballot again. This time, Strickland was the only Republican on the ballot, and received 56 percent of the vote. McGrath had a Democratic challenger that year (Port Hueneme Councilman Jon Sharkey). She received 31.2 percent, and the Democratic share of the primary vote was 42.1 percent. In November, the Democratic share rose by 4 percentage points and the Republican share dropped by nearly 5 percentage points. Again, Strickland won a relatively close race, 51.3 percent to 46.4 percent.
In both instances, there were fairly dramatic shifts between the primary and the general election, with the Republican share dropping by 15 points and 5 points, respectively, and the Democratic share increasing by 11 points and 4 points, respectively.
To be sure, the 1998 race had some very unique elements. There were five Republicans on the ballot that year, and the race attracted extensive coverage in Southern California after a Strickland campaign volunteer captured GOP opponent Rich Sybert on video personally tearing down a large Strickland campaign sign late at night (and having lied about the allegation until the video was released to catch him in the lie). There's no question all the attention given that incident drove up the share of votes received by the Republican field in that primary.
The 2000 elections, however, provide a fairly clean comparison with today. It was a presidential election year and there were no pre-election incidents to skew the turnout. And in the general election, Strickland's share dropped by 5 percentage points.
In the election two weeks ago, Strickland received 44 percent. The Democratic share, led by Brownley's 27 percent, was 37.5 percent. In this case, however, the X factor was the presence of independent Linda Parks on the ballot. She received 18 percent.
There are no definitive conclusions to be gleaned here, other than to note that it is highly likely that the Democratic share of the vote will increase significantly in November.
There is one other important point that should be noted: In both those instances, Strickland won.
BETTER TO HOLD A FUNDRAISER THAN TO HITCH-HIKE -- Democratic Assembly candidate Eileen MacEnery, who pulled off a surprise primary victory despite running a campaign on a shoestring budget that couldn't afford even a shoestring, held a fundraiser over the weekend. The goal was rather modest: To come up with enough money to pay for trip to Sacramento tomorrow to attend Speaker John Perez' session for Democratic Assembly candidates around the state.
TOO MUCH FUN -- One gets the sense that the campaign strategists for Democratic Rep. Lois Capps of Santa Barbara are having too much fun with the split among Central Coast Republicans over the campaign of congressional challenger Abel Maldonado in the 24th District.
Maldonado was pilloried by conservatives during the primary, to the point where national conservative leader Grover Norquist put out an 11th hour appeal urging his defeat. He was challenged in the primary by actor Chris Mitchum, a conservative with Tea Party credentials. Maldonado prevailed for second place, 30 percent to 22 percent.
In a radio interview the morning after the election, Maldonado said he had received a call from Mitchum the night before pledging his support during the general election.
The Capps campaign last week was very quick to call to reporters' attention a subsequent letter from Mitchum to the Santa Barbara online news organization Noozhawk.com asserting that his call to Maldonado was a gentlemanly offer of congratulations, but by no means an endorsement.
"I entered the 24th District congressional race because I strongly support political principles that Abel Maldonado obviously doesn't share and, on that basis, I cannot endorse him," Mitchum wrote. "For me to do so would violate the principles and the trust of my loyal 25,000 supporters who voted for me on June 5."