Friday, June 15, 2012

CA-31: My Advice to Bob Dutton

And all the other candidates who are in a same party run-off.

Do you remember how they said that an open primary that included independents was going to mean moderates got through to the general election? Remember how I said they were wrong and they were? Of course you do. Well, they were right. Just about the wrong election. The November run-off may just produce more moderates. Even when the conventional wisdom gets it right, they can't get it right.

Contrary to what they told you, the Top Two was similar to your traditional primary. There were Republicans and Democrats on the ballot. Republicans voted for their chosen Republican, often the most conservative candidate. Democrats voted for the most liberal Democrats. Independents are a diverse group and there's no candidate who represents that many of them. So they didn't have a major impact.

Most races will feature a Republican vs. a Democrat in November. It doesn't matter how conservative Doug LaMalfa is. He's going to win the election in CA-1. It's the same thing for Democrat Jared Huffman in CA-2. But it's the member v. member races where things get murky. Because not only are you conservative, but your opponent is as well. In a primary, where the electorate is overwhelmingly conservative you run to the right to win. If your district is competitive in the fall you run to the center and hopefully pick off more of the center than your opponent. If it isn't, you cruise to a win.

Running to the center when your opponent is your ideological opposite is familiar territory. But what happens when your opponent is also conservative but most of the electorate isn't? The electorates are below:

So how do you handle this?

Don't change your positions or run to the center. Any time a politician "finds religion" and changes their position in the middle of a campaign the electorate smells a rat. They don't believe it and they may turn on the candidate. Thus, the flip-flop works against them. But there's more to it than that. In a normal election you can run to the center and not worry about pissing off your base. No matter how far you go, you're going to be better than the other guy. Now, they can choose the other guy.

And they will. Just ask Linda Parks. People thought it was canny when the Republican turned NPP to run in CA-26. The theory was that she couldn't out Republican Tony Strickland, but if she became an independent she'd add independents and Democrats as her supporters. That was very wrong.

I anticipated she'd do that and Tony Strickland would max out around 33-35%. Strickland got 44.2% of the vote. He could only get that kind of vote if he took around 87% of all Republicans, conservatives and moderates. Even then he'd have to pick almost all of the American Independent, Libertarian, and conservative independent vote, and even some moderate independents. Parks likely did very well with moderate independents and Democrats, but when she lost all her Republican support, she didn't have enough voters to get her into Top Two.

Parks didn't change her positions, but she forgot that Republicans want to vote for Republicans who'll elect John Boehner House speaker. That's why they didn't become independents. They likely felt betrayed by Parks.

She found out what any candidate would, 1) your base will remain loyal to you if you remain loyal to them. 2) People who aren't your base are going to be far less reliable. You know how to get the people you've gotten. You don't know how to get the ones you don't. So why alienate the former in a vain attempt to get the latter?

In CA-30, right leaning voters will look at the ballot and scoff. Their choices are Howard Berman and his 5.00 lifetime ACU score and Brad Sherman and his 4.65 score. It's tough to make the case there'll be anything in their positions to appeal to conservatives. When the opposing party voters vote they won't vote for the person who is ideologically closest to them. They'll vote for the less of two evils.

So they're voting for someone they won't like. And they'll be none too happy about it. That vote will be easy in two districts. In CA-15 Eric Swalwell needs to sell the 20-25% of the electorate that's Republican (and some independents) that he's not Pete Stark. Stark is reviled by many Republicans. You can be for government run healthcare and get Republicans if you're facing Pete Stark. If Swalwell gets 25% of the Democrats, he should win.

The candidates in CA-8 are Assemblyman Paul Cook and Gregg Imus. Imus is a member of the tea party and a Minuteman who has patrolled the border to stop immigrants from crossing the border. Nearly a quarter of November's voters will be Latino and over 30% will be Democrats. Good luck getting them if you're a Minuteman. If Cook takes 75% of non-Republicans he can win with 20% Republicans. And he'll certainly do better than that.

The answer to appealing to Democrats in CA-31, or the other party in any district, isn't changing your ideology. It's convincing them that you'll be there for constituent services, that you're reasonable with your door open to them, and that your opponent is way too extreme. Just don't lose your base while doing it.

I didn't say it'd be easy.

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