A PPIC poll released this week confirms that California is likely to see a competitive November election between two Democrats, Kamala Harris and Loretta Sanchez. This is a huge victory for California voters and still another validation of the Independent Voter Project, authors of the Proposition 14 reforms that brought nonpartisan open primaries to the state.
It has been almost three decades since California has seen a genuinely competitive contest for the U.S. Senate. The race promises to produce a number of firsts regardless of outcome.
The long-term effect is likely to force the California Republican Party to face reality and move away from a national brand that borders on irrelevancy in the nation’s largest state.
The victory for 2016, however, belongs to voters.
Replacing partisan primaries with the nonpartisan open (or voter nominated) process succeeded in its core purpose to give California voters a real choice in November when the most people vote.
Harris is clearly the establishment choice. She is generally viewed as the more liberal of the two candidates and she enjoys the backing of heavy hitter Demo Party donors.
Congresswoman Sanchez’s votes against the war in Iraq and against the Wall Street bailout give her a unified appeal to both Democratic and independent voters that dominate the state.
Republican Duf Sundheim, a former party chairman with strong moderate credentials and a solid history of supporting open primaries, would have been the strongest Republican November contender. But he appears to have been unable to consolidate support in the face of two more conservative challengers.
Undecideds could still break in Sundheim’s favor. But, truth is, no Republican candidate is likely to be competitive in a state in which registration has plummeted.
It appears more likely that we will see a historic matchup between two Democrats and a competitive contest based on the issues that separate the two.
Harris’ position as attorney general gives her a strong ballot title and an activist narrative that she has emphasized in her television commercials.
In the old closed primaries, Southern California Democrats were routinely shut out in the low turnout June elections...
But Sanchez, despite starting late and being heavily outspent, has steadily closed the gap between her and Harris, while putting distance between her and the three Republican contenders.
While much of the press attention is likely to focus on the two candidates ethnicity, Sanchez’s strength could ultimately be rooted in geography.
Despite being home to two-thirds of the state’s voters, southern California has not seen a person in the U.S. Senate for almost thirty years when Pete Wilson held the seat.
A Sanchez victory would break the lock that San Francisco has had on both seats since Senators Feinstein and Boxer took office.
This possibility is also directly attributable to the Proposition 14 reforms.
In the old closed primaries, Southern California Democrats were routinely shut out in the low turnout June elections because of the concentration of Democrats in the Bay Area.
The move to a nonpartisan primary has given the Southern California congresswoman the opportunity to consolidate her more moderate base without being swamped by Bay Area Democrats in a closed, low turnout, partisan primary.
Indeed, Sanchez’s reputation for feisty independence is likely to play better in the higher turnout general election, in which the power of hardcore partisan voters is diminished.
Read More: Democratic Candidate Loretta Sanchez: ‘I Disagree with the DNC Chair; Let Independents Vote’
All this translates into a general election that will actually mean something. And, that is precisely the reason why The Independent Voter Project wrote Proposition 14.
Elections should be decided when the most people vote. Regardless of the outcome in November, the voters have won.