California's Prop 14, top two primary, may change elections and it might not be in the way the authors expected. Let’s look at several scenarios:
The very safe district (Incumbent usually gets 75% or more)
In the past, reps in these districts have run unopposed. I think that’ll end. The opportunity to be the only opponent is going to encourage someone to run everywhere, even if it’s a third party. In order for the rep to remove the race a political party might run a secondary candidate who’ll get enough votes to knock out the other party. The Republican had no chance to win, but Nancy Pelosi had to put up with a well funded opponent running a lot of ads last fall. Pelosi should prefer to run against a Democrat and not have to worry. Even if Pelosi took 60-70% of the vote a Democrat could finish second in her district.
The safe district (Incumbent gets 60-70%)
Normally the rep here would be safe, but what if they aren’t running in the general election against a member of the other party? This might be unusual, but some candidates get challenged by members of their own party, from the left or from the right. While the incumbent may get the most votes in the primary, the inter-party challenger might finish second.
Then the concern would be the general election. First, there are supporters of the challenger. This could be a tea party candidate, a progressive, or someone from the center. They’re unlikely to change their support. After all, voting for their candidate won’t hand the seat to the other party. Then there are independents and voters in the other party.
In a scenario Republicans will have a say which Democrat gets elected and their votes become an important unpledged block. One scenario will have them voting for which candidate is closer to the center, but they might want to be rid of the entrenched rep so much that they’ll vote for the progressive. Or maybe they’ll feel the progressive is someone they’ll be able to beat in the next election.
In a district like this an attack from a Democrat in the center might also succeed if that person can appeal to enough of the Republican minority to make top two in the primary and then turn that into a win in the general. If it were a Republican-Democratic match-up being in the center might not help the Republican win the general election. Democrats would rally to the Democrat. No matter how angry the Clinton voters were in the 2008 Presidential primaries, most of them threw their support behind Barack Obama, the Democrat.
The 36th special election will be between a conservative Republican and a liberal Democrat. It’s widely assumed that Debra Bowen, perceived as more moderate than Janice Hahn, supporters will vote for Hahn. Politico thinks they might stay home, however.
The competitive district (incumbent gets 50-60%)
The Abel Maldonado theory is that a centrist can pull enough from the left and right to make the top two and then pull from the losing party in the general election to win. This might’ve worked for Charlie Crist. He finished 2nd in the November election. It’s very possible that in a one-on-one match-up with Marco Rubio he would’ve won. The race would’ve been two Republicans facing off, just as a run-off in Alaska would’ve been two Republicans.
On the other hand, an election with two Democrats and a Republican in the Hawaii 1st district ended up with the Republican first and one of the Democrats second. The November election was a run-off of sorts and the Democrat won. Of course the 1st was a very Democratic district.