California Democrats spend significant campaign cash fighting each other because of Prop. 14
New figures on the November 2016 election cycle showed that Golden State Democrats continued to shell out substantial sums to compete with one another for elective office. Numbers taken from the California Secretary of State, and verified with Cal-Access campaign records, illustrate how the state’s blanket primary system, which pits the top two first-round vote-getters against one another in general elections regardless of party, has changed election dynamics.
“In the 2016 election cycle, Democrats raised or spent $91.5 million on same-party races – a 69 percent increase from 2014 when Democrats spent $54.3 million,” according to Forward Observer, which gathered and analyzed the data. “The average budget for a same-party race between Democrats was $3.97 million in the 2016 cycle, up 32 percent since 2014.”
For the state GOP, by contrast, blanket primaries have had an increasingly milder effect. “Republicans raised or spent $2.78 million on same party races in 2016, a decline of approximately 80 percent since 2014 when Republicans spent $13.85 million,” Forward Observer added. “Notably, there were no same-party races between two Republicans in either the state Senate or the U.S. House of Representatives in 2016.”
Contributing to the discrepancy, Republicans in California have simply run against one another with less frequency than Democrats. Since the 2012 elections, when the blanket primary system began, only 20 of 79 total intraparty races – including those for seats in the Assembly, the state Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives – pitted one Republican candidate against another. The 59 Democrat-on-Democrat races notched over the relatively brief time period have added up: “In total, Democrats have spent a total of $195 million on same-party races since Prop. 14 first went into effect in 2012 compared to $31.3 million spent by Republicans,” Forward Observer concluded. “In other words, Democrats have spent $6.24 on same-party races for every dollar spent or raised by Republicans.”
A wedge effect
The news underscored indications earlier this year that California Democrats could be polarizing on some issues as a result of the party’s statewide dominance and tough competition for limited leadership positions. “Another effect of the [blanket primary] system, harder to quantify but possibly more serious, has been a sharpening differences between the more moderate and more progressive wings of the party, sparking sometimes thorny disagreements that could have been softened had all candidates vying for office run against Republican opponents,” as CalWatchdog previously reported. “In some cases, such as Kamala Harris’ race against Loretta Sanchez, the challenger was too weak to force a bruising battle over political agendas. In others, however, a more moderate non-incumbent drew a clear line on policy and was rewarded at the ballot box.”
“Last year, for instance, Orinda Mayor Steve Glazer – a former aide to Gov. Jerry Brown who pitted himself against the BART strike and won support from Chuck Reed, the ex-San Jose Mayor spearheading public pension reform – bested Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, the far more liberal Democrat who initially had been widely expected to win the race to replace outgoing state Senator Mark DeSaulnier.”
Nationally, divided Democrats have sometimes replicated the pattern. “Former Vice President Joe Biden, beloved by the Democratic base, had the audacity to endorse Barack Obama’s labor secretary, Tom Perez, to become Democratic National Committee chairman,” as Dan Morain wrote at the Sacramento Bee. “Sen. Bernie Sanders, who supports the more liberal Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, denounced Biden’s move as representing the ‘failed status-quo approach.'” But while Sanders made a big cameo during November’s elections, getting involved in the state initiative process, it’s unlikely he or other national party figures will try to tip the scales one way or the other in a close race scenario between two state-level California Democrats vying for the same office.
Still, the next big test of Democrats’ fundraising fortunes in a head-to-head matchup has been teed up for spring, when the special election will be held to replace new state Attorney General and outgoing Rep. Xavier Becerra in Congress. “At this point, 17 Democrats, two Republicans and one Green-party candidate will appear on the April 4 special-primary ballot,” Jim Geraghty observed at National Review. Assuming no contender wins a majority of votes on that day, the runoff election has been slated for June 6.
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