The California 16th Assembly District race took an interesting turn last week when Democratic candidate Steve Glazer reached out to Republican voters and drew an attack from the Republican Party boss for doing so.
This is a district that Democrats would expect to win in November. The primary race is very close and the prevailing wisdom is that the Republican candidate, Catherine Baker, will make it through to the general election. If correct, that leaves a fight between Democrats Tim Sbranti and Steve Glazer for the second spot.
But, the open primary means that the two candidates can also reach out to independent voters and to Republicans.
In fact, Steve Glazer’s efforts to communicate with Republican voters has made Republican Party leader Jim Brulte so nervous that he criticized the effort.
Partisans publicly express “shock” over the temerity of a Democrat presuming to seek votes from Republicans in a primary as though it were tantamount to seeking Vladimir Putin’s endorsement.
But, Brulte’s private concern reflects a more sophisticated view of the campaign. As the chairman of a rapidly shrinking political party in California, the former Senate minority leader knows that it is possible that this district could produce two Democrats in the runoff if enough Republican voters bolted to Glazer in the primary.
About 28.6 percent of the state’s voters are registered Republicans, down from 35.7 percent a decade ago, according to the latest figures from the California secretary of state. If the trends of the next decade mirror the last, “No Party Preference” voters will outnumber Republicans in California by 2024.
When you are trying to rebuild a political party that some argue could be on the brink of extinction, the last thing you need is for voters to peer past the partisan barriers to produce a more competitive November election in a district likely destined to elect a Democrat under any circumstances.
It is precisely this brand of competition that the authors of the nonpartisan, open primary had in mind. Candidates are forced from the beginning of their campaigns to consider the views of independents and minority party members if they expect to be successful in November.
The new reality is reflected in the fact that BOTH Democrats publicly support the open primary.
Sbranti responded to questions from IVN:
1. Will you support the right of independent voters to participate in primary elections by defending California’s Nonpartisan Open Primary?
2. How has your campaign tried to reach out to nonpartisan voters?
My volunteers and I have spent countless hours reaching out to non-partisan voters on the phones, at the doors and in the community. My campaign has also sent information about my candidacy in the mail and by email. We have also done neighborhood house parties where we have reached out to voters of all parties, including non-partisan voters. Voters, regardless of party, care about educating our youth, boosting our local economy and job creation – all of which are the foundation principals of my campaign.
3. What is one example of an issue that you have promoted without the support of your party?
In 2012, I was a strong supporter of Eric Swalwell for Congress, who was not the Democratic Party’s endorsed candidate. The California Democratic Party, the California Labor Federation, and all of the local Democratic clubs and affiliated organizations had endorsed Pete Stark, and I was the only local elected official to stand with Eric when he announced his candidacy in September of 2011. I had the great pleasure of teaching Eric when he was in high school, and we formed a friendship from there and I have been honored to serve as one of his mentors. I know first hand how smart, dedicated and pragmatic Eric is, and how much he truly cares for our community. I knew he would be an excellent representative for the district and was happy to be able to support him.
Glazier did not respond to the questionnaire but speaks to the issue on his campaign web site:
“I strongly support the voter approved open primary and the right of independent voters to fully participate in primary elections. My campaign has actively reached out to independent and decline to state voters in numerous voter communications and public remarks. My campaign theme is “Proven Independence” and underscores my efforts to speak the truth to power on all sides of the political spectrum.”
Despite each candidate’s local government history, the campaign finance battle has been basically labor versus business. As a consultant, Glazer took a prominent role in the campaigns against two labor favorites in 2012. This has resulted in a united labor front against him, magnified by his aggressive pursuit of legislation to prohibit strikes by employees of BART’s commuter train operation.
Business packs have weighed in heavily with both negative Sbranti advertising and with pro Glazer material.
All of this “voter centric” activity clearly disturbs the beltway class. Partisans on both sides love to refer to the California system as a “jungle” primary. Republican activists still in control of the party apparatus rail against the system and progressives, disturbed by the rise of moderate Democrats, fear losing influence within their own party.
The liberal Bay Guardian put it this way:
“The rise of these centrists — who are becoming increasingly known as Corporate Democrats, because they tend side with Big Business and against labor and the environment — is especially striking this year in the East Bay. In three legislative races, Corporate Democrats — Steve Glazer, Eric Swalwell, and Ro Khanna — are squaring off against more traditional liberal Democrats — Tim Sbranti, Ellen Corbett, and Mike Honda. And if the centrists win, they will move political representation in the traditionally progressive East Bay further to the right, and will do it by garnering GOP votes in the November election since no Republican candidates will likely get past the June primary. In fact, that’s precisely how (Eric) Swalwell unseated longtime liberal Congressman Pete Stark in 2012. Stark won among Democrats, but lost to Swalwell among Republicans and independents, and thus lost the race.”
Another way of putting it:
Voters, long disenfranchised in these heavily Democratic districts will actually be relevant this election cycle. Whether that produces “moderation” or not is really a question of what the actual makeup of the electorate is. The old system protected politicians like Stark because all he had to do was win a small turnout primary and knew he would face a helpless Republican in the general election.
Eric Swalwell won only because he could get the long-time incumbent into a one on one contest with all voters participating.