The biggest fail for Democrats in 2012 and the biggest example of how top two would change elections was the CA-31 election. The district leans Democratic, Barack Obama won comfortably, but two Republicans finished top two. This happened for several reasons, which may repeat in 2014.
Democrats don’t show up in primaries
In California, there are a lot more Democrats who only vote in November elections than Republicans. Democrats want to think they can wish this away or if they work harder on GOTV, they’ll get their voters to the polls. Yet, the results of the SD-16 and San Diego mayoral election, both of which they worked very hard on GOTV, suggest otherwise. I’m not saying they shouldn’t work on GOTV, they should, but the best thing for Democrats to do is realize June is weak for them and figure out a way to minimize the weakness.
In 2012, the electorate voted 51.5% Republican 48.5% Democratic in the CA-31 primary. Is there any reason to think it’ll be different in 2014? The electorate could be different. The good news for Democrats is that while the general election turn-out has been lower in mid-term years, the primary electorate has been slightly higher the last two cycles. I don’t know if that means the electorate will be more Democratic than 2012, but it shouldn’t be less Democratic.
Democrats saw a surge in registration in October 2012 due to online registration. While that hasn’t held up in subsequent registration reports, those people are still registered. And they did vote at a good rate in November 2012. The downside there is that these people never thought it was a good idea to register and vote in any previous primary. Why start now in a non-Presidential year when the biggest offices to have Democratic competition are controller and secretary of state, two offices they might have never hear of.
As I mentioned above, while non-November elections don’t favor Democrats, this cycle has been particularly bad for them. They already aren’t showing up. The forecasters are thinking the electorate in November is going to favor the Republicans and that may be part of it.
Without further data, I’m going to assume the voters in June will go 51.5% Republican 48.5% Democratic. There are two Republicans in the field, Lesli Gooch and Paul Chabot. Both are largely unknown but they appear to be running serious campaigns. They have quality websites. Chabot has run for office before and Gooch has indicated she raised $100,000 before she officially declared. The big question is how they’ll split the Republican vote. In some cases, two Republicans with similar backgrounds and similar spending finished close to each other. In others, one dominated. In most of those circumstances, however, one candidate had the state party’s endorsement, something that can garner a lot of votes in a mailer. Neither of these candidates has that. Without anything yet to suggest there’s anything distinguishable between the candidates, I’m going to assume they’ll finish close, near 25% each.
There are four Democrats in the field, Redlands mayor Pete Aguilar, San Bernardino City Unified School District member Danny Tillman, attorney Eloise Gomez Reyes, and former congressman Joe Baca. Aguilar ran in 2012 and only 22.6% of the vote. He could do better. He has the state party endorsement, although he had that in 2012. He’s raised more money than 2012 and he does have the experience of a losing campaign. He likely knows what he did wrong.
Gomez Reyes has raised a little less than Aguilar, far more than his main 2012 rival Justin Kim. She’s been running for a long period of time and she has the endorsement of EMILY’S List. Kim had no national organizations backing him. She seems a more formidable challenger, perhaps one who could beat Aguilar.
Danny Tillman is a well known and well respected San Bernardino City school board member. He’s served on it for nearly 20 years. San Bernardino is much larger than Redlands, where Aguilar is mayor. Tillman is also African-Americans in a city where African-Americans make up 15% of the population and a larger percentage of Democratic voters. In 2012 the African-American candidate, Renea Wickman, got 6.7% of the vote despite spending very little money. She has endorsed Tillman, as have a number of other people in San Bernardino. I don’t recognize any names, but then Tillman doesn’t need elected officials pushing him for him to garner a similar percentage to Wickman.
The final candidate is former congressman Joe Baca. Baca has been criticized for running a non-serious campaign. He hasn’t raised a lot of money. Of course, Baca’s big asset is his well known name and that he represented part of this district in congress for 14 years. He led Aguilar in his own poll. While an internal poll from a candidate should be discounted Baca could do well here on name ID alone. Steve Kuykendall ran a poor primary campaign in 2012 in CA-47. He still got 10.7% of the vote, probably because he was a former congressman with name ID. While finishing top two seems a stretch for Baca, he should exceed Rita Ramirez-Dean’s 5.7% in the 2012 primary.
Some people viewed the 2012 primary results as a fluke, but they really shouldn’t have been so surprising. With four Democrats, none of whom was an incumbent, and two evenly matched Republicans, the vote fell out the way I expected. There are a lot of moving parts, so who’ll finish top two is difficult to predict. What I can say is that the conditions that led to two Republicans finishing top two appear to be repeating themselves and if anything they are even more suited for that.