In the Golden State, an interesting scene is playing out that reveals the consequences of the state’s first all-party primary, top two open primary, or “Jungle Primary,” as many media outlets have called it.
According to new California election laws that took effect for the first time this year, the top two vote getters in a primary, regardless of party affiliation, face each other in the general election. In California’s 31st congressional district, the new primary has pitted a Republican against a fellow Republican for the US House seat in the November election.
Through redistricting and the retirement of Republican representative, Jerry Lewis, the 31st district, mostly located in San Bernardino County, is an open seat.
US Representative Gary Miller, who has represented California in the House of Representatives as a Republican since 1999 in the 41st and 42nd congressional districts, finished first in the June 5 primary for CD-31 with 26.79 percent of the vote.
Miller was eligible for the 39th district, but moved from Diamond Bar in Los Angeles County to San Bernardino County to run in the newly-redrawn 31st district. As a sitting congressman, he is an incumbent in this race, although not the 31st district’s particular incumbent.
Miller’s general election opponent is fellow Republican and California State Senator Bob Dutton. Dutton, originally from Lincoln, Nebraska, has lived in California for more than four decades. A veteran of the California Air National Guard, Dutton built a real estate company, served in the California Senate since 2004 after two years as a state assemblyman, and has most recently served as California State Senate Republican Leader, a position he has held since 2010.
Miller holds a substantial money lead over Dutton. According to OpenSecrets.org, at the end of the last reporting period, Miller had over $859,000 on hand while Dutton had just over $31,000, much of it self-financed. Miller has been aided by fundraisers headed by House Speaker John Boehner as well as high-profile endorsements from three of the more influential Republican legislators in the country: Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, and vice presidential nominee and US Representative Paul Ryan. Dutton, who is running on his home turf, has a long list of endorsements from local officeholders.
Despite the significant money difference, Dutton is publicizing a recent poll of 400 likely voters conducted by his campaign that shows Dutton leading Miller by as much as 22 percent.
One advantage Dutton holds in this race is that he has a reputation for bipartisanship in the California state government. One of Dutton’s signature accomplishments, which is ongoing, is a reform to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that garnered the support of one of California’s US Senators and Democrat, Dianne Feinstein. The reforms included allowing businesses to fix minor violations of the ADA before going to court:
“Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, he approached me and said, ‘This might be one of those things that we might want to work together on to solve a problem.’ And so we decided to join forces in a bipartisan fashion to actually fix a problem. You know, small business owners are both Democrat and Republican and independents and Green Party and everything else. So this is not really a partisan issue.”
Miller, on the other hand, has had to defend a number of politically-charged and unpopular votes including Medicare Part D and TARP, which Miller justified on the House floor by saying the measure was not for “fat cats on Wall Street,” but for the “small” or “average” people.
“Great 31st District Face-Off” – September 26th
One of the key moments in the campaign will be on September 26, billed as the “Great 31st District Face-Off,” when the two Republicans will meet for the Chaffey Community Republican Women Federated organization in a California CD-31 Forum. The event, which is the only currently-scheduled debate or forum and is open to members of all parties, is advertised as a question and answer forum where both candidates “will each have several minutes to talk about their vision for the office they seek.”
In San Bernardino County, where unemployment is nearly 12% higher than the California average, the economy will be a major topic. It will be one of Dutton’s best chances, despite numerous disadvantages, to prove himself to voters, and remind many Democrats and independent voters– who may not feel they have a horse in this race– that he is not a blind partisan, but someone who has crossed party lines to achieve goals. Dutton also touts a deal he helped negotiate in Sacramento to bring an Amazon.com fulfillment, or distribution center to San Bernardino County, and with it, “a thousand jobs to the Inland Empire.”
According to the Los Angeles Times, the district is 41% registered Democrats and 37% Republicans, and voted 58% for Barack Obama in 2008. The California CD-31 Forum is a prime opportunity for Dutton to tap into a potential reservoir of undecided voters.
As California sees some of the first fruits of its first top two open primary, Republicans Gary Miller and Bob Dutton have the opportunity to show that there are times for bipartisanship and the California CD-31 Forum is one place they can do it.