Prop Zero
The Starting Point for Commentary and Coverage of California Politics

The Election Show Must Go On

Email
|
Print

    NEWSLETTERS

    Before a play heads to Broadway, there’s usually that all-important “out-of-town tryout,” which allows for tinkering with the script and cast.

    It can ultimately determine whether the production makes it to The Great White Way at all.

    Next Tuesday, the eyes of political junkies will be focused on Southern California—more specifically, on the special election to fill the 36th CD seat, vacated recently by Democrat Jane Harman.

    The campaign for the 36th CD is basically the inaugural out-of town tryout for the 2012 elections.

    Here, national themes and strategies will be tested, communication and GOTV techniques honed, and media “pundits,” like gleeful theater critics reviewing a new show, will pick over every campaign hit or dud.

    So let’s preview this curtain-raiser.

    The race is the first Congressional election to be held under California’s new “top-two” primary law, passed by voter initiative in 2010. All candidates, regardless of party id, run in the primary and the top two finishers, even if they’re from the same party, meet in a runoff.

    Proponents of the initiative argued that the change from closed primaries, dominated by the major parties’ extremes, to a wide-open election in which independent and moderate voters must be courted by all candidates would lead to more centrist office-holders and less partisan gridlock.

    Did it work in the 36th CD?

    Among the 16 candidates on the May ballot, the anointed front-runners in this heavily Democratic district were two well-known, politically seasoned Democrats: California’s Secretary of State, Debra Bowen—a liberal, and the more moderate L.A. City Councilwoman Janice Hahn.

    But, seemingly out of nowhere, came conservative Republican Craig Huey-- a wealthy first-time candidate and Tea Party favorite.

    Dumping over $500,000 of his own money into the race helped Huey narrowly out-poll a desultory Bowen, knocking her out of the run-off.

    That set up a duel between a centrist Democrat and a Tea Party type Republican.

    That’s not quite what the initiative’s supporters envisioned, but it set the stage for a battle that can offer clues as to whether the impact of the Tea Party, so important in the 2010 mid-term elections, maintains.

    It could also check the impact of labor union clout and money on the Democratic side.

    For more on the CD36 race, check back with Prop Zero on Monday.