For California, Tuesday’s election was indeed unique. As former Senate Republican Leader Jim Brulte laid it out, what made it unique was the fact that California has never before held an open primary in a redistricting year, in the middle of a presidential campaign.
California voters demanded an end to political gridlock and to the stranglehold of partisanship on voters and legislators alike. They approved the top-two primary to get what they asked for. Then, they stayed home from the polls in droves, giving the state its lowest presidential primary turnout in history. More worrisome for Democrats is that, overall, GOP turnout was higher that Democratic turnout. In many races, there was more to motivate Republicans (and in primaries, they've generally been higher propensity voters anyway).
Only where there was a heated intra-party race (e.g. Berman-Sherman) was there a higher Democratic turnout. That may have accounted for shocking surprises like the results in the CD 31 race, where the anointed Democratic candidate in this Democratic-leaning district, Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar -- faced with three other Democrats on the ballot and a low turnout -- came in third, behind the two GOP candidates, including incumbent Gary Miller. A party without a ballot contest can end up without much of a turnout.
Democrats won't have to worry about President Obama's losing here, but the enthusiasm factor (or lack thereof) could well impact down-ballot races.
Fasten your seat belts; it's going to be a very bumpy General Election campaign. The 30th CD is about to experience "Berman-Shermageddon" -- the run-off between Democratic incumbents Howard Berman and Brad Sherman. This nasty intra-party battle for political survival is likely to become the most expensive Congressional race in the history of the world. You'll see interest groups lining up against each other, and behind candidates in both same-party and inter-party run-offs. We saw some evidence of what redistricting blogger Paul Mitchell has labeled “Pulling a Bill Simon” in the primary campaign. Remember the 2002 gubernatorial race, when the re-election campaign of Gov. Gray Davis successfully zeroed in on bashing Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, considered a stronger GOP opponent than Simon? Actually the Dems also did that in 1966, when the party made a conscious effort to block San Francisco Mayor George Christopher from winning the GOP nomination for governor, assuming a politically untried B-movie actor, Ronald Reagan, would be weaker against incumbent Pat Brown in November. That worked out well for them, didn't it?
Business groups and labor unions targeted strategically in several primary contests, sometimes aiming at favored -- and disfavored -- candidates within one party. In AD 46, the California Teachers Association spent heavily against Democrat and charter reform advocate, Brian Johnson, who was supported by a coalition of businesspeople, philanthropists and education "reformers." CTA backed another Democrat; both candidates are now fighting for second spot on the ballot.
Be careful about any conclusions you make or predictions you hear about the changing nature of California politics in the wake of this political "earthquake." It's going to take a few test runs for voters, politicos and the media to suss things out.
Meaningful reforms are going to take patience in a world driven by instant gratification. Even then, they're only one small step toward reclaiming California from the state's current fiscal, educational, political and governmental dysfunction.
Sherry Bebitch Jeffe is a Senior Fellow at the USC Price School of Public Policy and the political analyst for NBC4.