Josh Goodman is a former staff writer for GOVERNING..E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Richard Winger of Ballot Access News argues that the results of last Tuesday's Republican primaries in California proved that supporters oversold the case for the top-two election system voters adopted:
In a related vein, supporters of Proposition 14 said during the campaign, over and over, that Republican primaries in California always result in victories for extreme conservatives. However, in all the contested Republican statewide primaries this year, with a semi-closed system, the more conservative candidate (among those who had big campaigns) lost in each instance. Steve Poizner lost for Governor, Sam Aanestad lost for Lieutenant Governor, Orly Taitz lost for Secretary of State, Tom Harman lost for Attorney General, and Chuck Devore lost for U.S. Senator.
You could quibble with some of Winger's examples. While DeVore was a Tea Party favorite, Carly Fiorina definitely ran as a conservative too. Taitz is an anti-Obama conspiracy theorist, but does that really make her a conservative?
Still, I think that the point here is pretty strong: Moderates clearly can win Republican primaries in California, even in a year when conservatives are especially motivated. The really striking example is the race for lieutenant governor. Abel Maldonado won the nomination despite voting for the budget that raised taxes in 2009 -- the one California conservatives despised. He is a Schwarzenegger moderate by any reasonable definition.
As one of Winger's commenters points out, the irony is that Maldonado was the one that pushed for putting top-two on the ballot as part of last year's budget deal. The cynical view was that Maldonado was just doing that so that he could run statewide and win. But, as it turned out, he didn't need top-two to prevail in a Republican primary.
Clearly, ideology wasn't the dominant factor in who Republicans nominated in California. Money was. All of the conservative candidates Winger mentions were badly outspent. That's the crucial reason that they lost.
Given that, there's a case that another measure on California's ballot would more directly have attacked what is wrong with the state's elections than top-two. That measure, Prop. 15, would have set up an experiment in public funding of campaigns for races for secretary of state. It lost by a wide margin.
Of course, it's both unsurprising and understandable that, at a time when California is enduring a historically bad fiscal crisis, voters wouldn't be enthusiastic about spending money funding political candidates.
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