Observing the current state of the California Republican Senate Primary, perhaps no phrase bears as much relevance as “the calm before the storm.”
On the one hand, the various candidates have racked up their fair share of press, solidified their campaign images and rhetorical strategies, and begun trying to reach out to secondary sources of approval by seeking endorsements from interest groups and Republican Party leaders. On the other hand, as the Fiorina and DeVore campaigns are far more anxious to point out than the Campbell campaign, a third of the voters still remain undecided, meaning that a knockout performance by any of the three candidates could gain that candidate frontrunner status, regardless of their present state of support.
California politics, which is often a sleepy affair for Republicans, may not be familiar with moments like this. However, looking at the Senate Primary from a global perspective, true junkies of electoral politics will have seen this movie before.
In fact, a quite similar event recently played out across the pond in the United Kingdom, where a three-way Parliamentary election left voters badly undecided, with no clear winner and no clear way to predict who the winner would be in the run-up to the election.
Naturally, the United Kingdom being the United Kingdom, the major difference is that every political candidate in that election swung to the Left of even the most moderate Republican. However, this does not prevent the British election from holding some telling moments of foreshadowing, especially as we enter the home stretch of the primary season.
To begin with, the similarities between the three candidates are striking – on the one hand, Chuck DeVore stands as the candidate who has maintained a perennial third place status in spite of his formidable bona fides within the Tea Party movement and the fanatical level of support he inspires among his admittedly smaller voter base. DeVore’s position, thus described, can be compared to that of current British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, whose status as the leader of a perennial third-place party in the British Parliament did little to hamper the enthusiasm surrounding his candidacy, and for whom said enthusiasm was a gate to power, albeit not power at the head of the table.
On the other hand, Tom Campbell, a more understated Republican than either of his two competitors, and also one with a more unconventional strategy, just barely leads the pack, even as he is dogged by charges of illegitimacy and insincerity. Such a situation mirrors the situation of current Prime Minister David Cameron, whose election gambit was marred by serious conviction problems and general skepticism about his faithfulness to the party line, which led to a less-enthusiastic turnout and dampened the strength of his eventual, but by no means inevitable, victory.
And finally, there is Carly Fiorina, whose powerhouse endorsements and highly unconventional political advertising have still not managed to push her over the top, in large part because of her continual vulnerability to charges of corruption and poor leadership. Fiorina’s massive gaffes-disguised-as-ads are a well-worn subject, and there is no need to revisit them, but the fact remains that, as candidates go, she remains in the least enviable position of resembling former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, whose own poor leadership credentials managed to keep him out of office, and whose gaffes even forced a resignation in what was otherwise beginning to look like a potentially bad election year.
Obviously, comparing Fiorina’s campaign in any way to Brown’s total ineptitude is unfair at this stage, but his campaign might provide a useful cautionary tale for Fiorina about what she would desire not to become.
Of course, the eventual result of the British election may also provide some illumination as to just what is required for a particular candidate to deliver the knockout blow. After all, when the dust settled, the coalition which now currently stands as the governing party was one in which the third and first-place powers united to knock out the competition.
California’s Republicans seem likely to be equally won over by a candidate who manages to blend DeVore’s sheer contempt for the political establishment with Campbell’s unconventional advocacy for conservative ideals. How this blend could be achieved by each candidate is a matter for another day, but ironically, in a year when symbols of American independence are proliferating throughout the country, a forceful question worthy of consideration in California might be…What the British would do?