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Prop. 29, the GOP Primary and Big Tobacco

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    NEWSLETTERS

    California is strapped for cash, and state Democrats are turning to the tobacco tax as a potential source of new revenue. (Published Tuesday, Mar 10, 2009)

    Supporters of Proposition 29 had better hope that Republicans settle on a nominee sooner than later, for the longer the battle drags on, the less likely it will be that the proposition secures victory. 

    It's hard to fathom that these two issues--a tobacco tax and the presidential nomination--would be related, but they are.

    Calif. Dems Want to Increase Cigarette Tax

    [LA] Calif. Dems Want to Increase Cigarette Tax
    California is strapped for cash, and state Democrats are turning to the tobacco tax as a potential source of new revenue. (Published Tuesday, Mar 10, 2009)

    Proposition 29 seeks to add $1 per pack to the cost of cigarettes, with the funds used for cancer research.

    Recent polls show that while voters in general support the ballot measure, Republicans are much less in favor than Democrats.

    A statewide poll by the Public Policy Institute of California last month found that Democrats favored Proposition 29 by a lopsided margin of three percent to one.

    Among Republicans, however, 54 percent supported Proposition 29, compared with 43 who opposed it.

    Fast forward to the votes for presidential nominees on June 5th and the story gets more interesting. Like all primaries, this one is likely to be a low turnout election.

    That's because primaries tend to draw only the most committed voters. But the turnout is likely to very low among Democrats because the nomination question is settled with the candidacy of incumbent Barack Obama.

    Among Republicans, the fight goes on.

    Every day that the four-way struggle for the nomination continues without resolution is another day that upcoming primaries become important.

    To the extent that the outcome remains unsettled by mid-May when absentee voting begins, California Republicans will be much more motivated to vote than their Democratic counterparts.

    That takes us back to Proposition 29. Even though the proposition is carrying a healthy majority now, two other factors are yet to play out.

    First, voters tend to back off from tax issues as the moment nears when they have to decide whether to tax themselves.

    Second, the tobacco industry has yet to swing into action. In 2006, early polls showed strong support for a proposal to increase tobacco taxes by $2.60 per pack.

    Yet, after a $65 million campaign by tobacco companies against the proposal, the proposition went down to defeat.

    Of course, taxing tobacco is not the same as something like a sales tax increase that affects everyone, so the drop-off may not occur.

    Front runner Mitt Romney may have the nomination sown up by the end of the month, which would take the wind out of the sails of motivated Republican voters who no longer feel the importance of their vote.

    Still, there's enough uncertainty to leave the fate of Proposition 29 in a precarious position. An unresolved outcome for the Republican presidential nomination may be just enough for a perfect storm--industry opposition, queasy voters, and an uneven turnout for the June 5th primary.

    That combination could well cause the defeat of Proposition 29.

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