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How the Top-Two Primary is Changing Campaign Strategy in Calif.

by Crystal Innabi, published

There is a shift in the types of candidates and campaigns that will win general elections in California and current contenders are not in a place where they can do what they may have done in previous elections.

In 2014, as a result of California’s nonpartisan, top-two open primary system, Republicans are seeing tossups in areas of the state usually considered easy-wins for GOP candidates, while Democratic candidates have to re-strategize for intra-party campaigns.

Under the new primary system, partisan and nonpartisan voters alike participate on a single ballot where the top two candidates, regardless of party, advance to the general election.

“Under the old system, an incumbent was almost guaranteed re-election every cycle," Republican congressional candidate Art Moore (CD-4) said. "Competition is good, and in races where both candidates are of the same party, the ultimate winner theoretically has to appeal to a broader spectrum of the electorate.”


Following the June 3 primary, the race for the state Senate seat in District 26 came down to 3 distinct candidates. Ben Allen (D) led the pack with 22.2 percent of the vote, followed by Sandra Fluke (D) with 19.4 percent, and Seth Stodder (NPP) with 17.4 percent.

Although they are both Democrats, under the new primary system, Allen and Fluke will go on to the general election. Thus the race for Sen. Ted Lieu’s (D) open seat is proving to be among the state's most competitive intra-party showdowns.

In the primary, candidates were faced with the challenge of standing out in a field of many similar partisan candidates.

“Running in such a broad field was a rewarding experience. In a district like ours, my opponents and I agreed on many basic political tenets, and this freed us to discuss the specifics of our own policy ideas,” Allen said in an interview for IVN.

Allen claims that he still worked hard to stand out as he “emphasiz combination of energy and new policy ideas, deep, deep roots in the district, and significant policy-making experience.” Now, however, Fluke and Allen are faced with a different challenge: appealing to broader voter demographics given that

53.7 percent of the district remains non-Democratic. Strategies must change in this district to win a majority.

Voters in District 26 are looking for a strong representative who will not get lost in Sacramento’s political arena. Allen believes he won't need to change anything going into the general election.

“I don't see my campaign message changing," he said. "I've always been committed to running an inclusive campaign that reaches out to folks from all across our district, from all sorts of different persuasions.”

The best way to illustrate how each candidate appeals to a variety of voters is to ask, why would a no party preference voter vote for one candidate over another? The answer rests in priorities.

Sandra is an easy pick for women’s rights groups, following the much publicized personal attack on her by Rush Limbaugh in 2012. She prioritizes her campaign around gender equality and education, while still making a powerful appeal to LGBTQ groups.

Allen takes a more inclusive approach that could appeal to even more groups. His “most important” priority, according to his website, is to make sure all communities, ethnic groups, and genders are represented in Sacramento. Allen, like Fluke, also focuses on education, job creation, and the environment.

Editor's note: The author reached out to Fluke's campaign for comment, but the candidate has not responded.

Editor's note: Ted Lieu is the incumbent in Senate District 26, an earlier version indicated Holly Mitchell (R) was leaving the Senate District 26 seat. The article has been revised.

Redistricting and population movements have changed the partisan landscape of Riverside County. The June primary results have named Republicans Jeff Stone and Bonnie Garcia as the two candidates moving on to the general election. While Stone led the primary with 20,807 votes, Garcia only beat Glenn Miller (R) by 449 votes -- taking 19.9 percent of the vote.

With the new primary system in play, both candidates are faced with challenges new to the California political arena. The Riverside area has seen a mass influx of Los Angeles residents seeking a small-town culture. These new residents did not bring LA’s strong party-preferences with them, but instead embraced Riverside's nonpartisan culture.

Thus, the changing demographics of northern Riverside County are drawing out the types of constituents each candidate must appeal to.

While the Caucasian community used to dominate the district at 47.2 percent of the electorate, they now represent only 32.1 percent and have been surpassed by the Latino population, which has grown nearly 12.8 percent in the last decade.


9 percent of Latinos identify as Republican, while they remain the third largest group to identify as independent. Given this major demographic shift in the area, it has become increasingly vital for Garcia and Stone to appeal to the Latino population.

Candidates have already taken note of other types of voters they must appeal to.

Garcia claimed that she would fight for middle class families -- a majority of the new Riverside population -- who make, on average, $64,016.

“My focus will continue to be how best to tackle the issues that impact all Californians - ensure every child receives a quality education, reduce taxes and onerous regulations to stimulate investment and strengthen our economy,” she said in an interview for IVN.

Stone, who is dedicated to providing the district with fiscal responsibility, aims to protect the Inland Empire’s unique way of life.

“The voters sent a clear message on June 3 that they want a representative who will put Riverside County first and who is not under the control of Sacramento interests,” he argued.

It will be interesting to watch how Garcia and Stone move to appeal to Latino voters in the months to come. Each candidate must revise his or her strategy to appeal to the growing nonpartisan culture of District 28.

Editor's note: The author reached out to Jeff Stone's campaign for comment but was unable to secure an interview with the candidate.

Congressional District 4 is a prime example of how once “safe seats” are now becoming intra-party face-offs. Previously, the primary would have decided the winner, but now, the political math is working to include partisan and non-partisan voters alike in a district that once ignored 55 percent of the voting population not affiliated with the Republican Party.

Incumbent Tom McClintock (R), a former state Senator and tea party favorite, assumed office in 2009. Later, in 2012, he defeated Democratic opponent Jack Uppal by a 22 percent margin. Uppal faced an uphill battle against the incumbent, running in a newly redrawn district that proved to favor Republicans

In 2014, McClintock will face Art Moore (R) in the November general election. Moore is an outspoken supporter of the top-two primary system and says it is an important factor in “getting government to function again”.

In previous years, with the district housing 45 percent Republicans, remaining votes were split between Democrats and independents. This allowed for a Republican stronghold to easily take the seat, like in 2012.

Today, however, the system allows for more moderate Republicans, like Moore, to make a serious run.

“I would not have run against McClintock under the party primary system," Moore claims. "It’s almost impossible to defeat an incumbent in a closed party primary.”

In the June primary, Moore advanced against Jeffrey Gerlach (NPP) by only 1.8 percent. Thus, the candidates are competing to gain Gerlach’s supporters for the coming fall.

This 21 percent of voters could very well make this race one of the most competitive of the year.

Moore’s campaign argues:

“We are preparing for McClintock to run a more aggressive and negative race for the general election. Career politicians usually do anything they can to stay in elective office…The 4th district deserves a Congressman who will represent their interests and by building a broad coalition of folks who want a pragmatic Congressman with real world experience.”
To appeal to this bloc of remaining voters, Moore says that although Democrats will not support all of his decisions, it is important for them “to know that plan on working with all sides to get past the gridlock which has stalled progress, will work on common sense and bipartisan solutions to our country’s problems, and will work to enhance our national treasures of Lake Tahoe and Yosemite.”

Moore plans to appeal to a broader range of voters on the ground of fair representation among all constituents. He claims that voters are looking for a “Republican who has real world experience, brings new ideas to the table, and is willing to work together with all parties in order to advance our country.”

Editor's note: The author reached out to Tom McClintock's office for comment, but was unable to secure an interview with congressman.

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