Thursday, June 7, 2012

CA-31: The Perfect Storm

Two Republicans finished Top Two in CA-31, even though the district is Democratic leaning. It has become exhibit A for Top Two. I called the result over the weekend. What did I see that no one else saw?

This was the perfect storm, something I mentioned as long ago as August 2011. Here's why it happened.

1. Republicans only had two candidates and they were both established elected officials who were evenly matched. Had there been a disparity between the two, this wouldn't have happened. Likewise a third Republican could have taken enough votes away from these two to put Aguilar into second.

2. There were four Democrats. While the Republicans were splitting up 52% of the vote 2 ways, the Democrats were splitting up 48% four ways. This probably wouldn't have happened had there even only been 3 Democrats.

3. The two Democrats who were thought of as just names on the ballot weren't. Renea Wickman has been a community activist and Rita Ramirez-Dean has been an educator for the past 38 years. Both got into the race early and had a big head start in getting support. It's tough to know when someone who raises little money is working hard, but these two clearly were. They got a combined 25% of the Democratic vote.

4. Democrat Justin Kim was largely unknown but he wasn't running a vanity campaign. Kim is a lawyer and a former congressional staffer who had strong enough connections in the district to raise over $100k

5. The Democrats waited on Congressman Joe Baca. Baca lives in the district and indicated that he'd run here after the first drafts came out. In September he switched to CA-35, a district where state senator Gloria Negrete McLeod was already running in. Assemblywoman Norma Torres was considering CA-35 until that point. None switched to CA-31. Russ Warner, who'd run for congress before, was thought to be the leading contender but he decided on the state senate instead.

6. At this point it looked like either Republican congressman Jerry Lewis would run here, as the district contained portions of his district. Democrats must've written off the district, because no new candidate emerged.

7. Lewis surprisingly retired in January. Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar jumped in. Redlands is a small town and he was getting in late. It's a jump to go from small town mayor to congress and one that candidates usually prepare for for a long time. Aguilar was already running behind.

8. The county party didn't make an endorsement. Such an endorsement is big when the candidates are unknown. Jerry Hayden and Jeff Taylor got Republican nominations in CA-46 and CA-20 likely because of this. Now, voters had no guide to go by. The candidates didn't have a lot to distinguish themselves from each other. Aguilar failed to take half the Democratic vote.

What I saw was the perfect storm of two well known evenly matched Republicans against four unknown Democrats. If it was going to happen, it'd happen here. And it did.

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