California's top-two "jungle" primary system was put in by Democrats years ago as a way to maintain party power. The top two candidates in a primary are put on the ballot, regardless of primary. Democrats were okay with it because it meant that in heavily blue districts, two Dems could run against each other, while in more competitive districts, Republicans would still more often than not get on the ballot in November, even in moderately blue districts, where they could get behind a single candidate and dominate like they have in the Orange County.
But California politics have now reached the point where so many Democratic primary candidates are running against vulnerable Republicans that the Dems could very well end up taking each other out, splitting the vote to the point where two Republicans could come out on top in June primaries and essentially lock Dems out of multiple House districts completely.
With so many Democrats running, the party’s fear is that the vote will be splintered, allowing Republicans — who have fewer candidates — to dominate some primaries. The party and allied groups are spending more than $4 million on just three campaigns, intervening in one contest to prop up a favored candidate; attacking a Republican from the right in another; and even reminding people not to waste their votes on “ghost candidates” who have dropped out yet remain on the ballot.
As any progressive activist will explain through gnashed teeth, the head-snapping scramble is because of the state’s “top two” open primary system, which allows the two leading vote-getters — regardless of political parties — to advance to the general election.
The “top two” system was meant to create incentives for political moderation in a state where about a quarter of the voters are independents, but it has created immense stakes for Democrats: They need to win 23 seats to take back the House, and party officials believe the path runs through the seven competitive California districts, all of which Hillary Clinton carried in 2016.
“It’s a disaster,” Gail Reisman, a retired gerontologist and Toronto native who lives in Representative Dana Rohrabacher’s district, said after attending a candidate forum Tuesday. “If we have two Republicans running I think I’m going back to Canada.”
The situation would be your standard comically "inept Democrats stupidly blowing it at the national party level" that's happened in almost every election I've been alive for if it wasn't the whole "threatening to keep Russian-bought traitors like GOP Rep. Dana Rohrabacher in the House" part.
Nowhere is the danger more acute than in a pair of contiguous districts that stretch from Orange County’s Seal Beach down the Pacific coastline to the cliffs of La Jolla.
It is here where national Democrats, deeply concerned their voters are scattered among little-known House candidates, are staging a rescue mission to ensure they are not locked out this fall in Mr. Rohrabacher’s district and the one farther south held by Representative Darrell Issa, a Republican who is retiring.
Opposition research and hard-edge direct mail pieces are flying between candidates, too, some of them tinged with accusations of #metoo impropriety. But surveys show many of the candidates bunched together in the teens and few operatives have a firm grasp for what will unfold.
Actual policy issues are largely secondary: The differences between the Democratic hopefuls are a matter of degree, with all of them vowing a progressive agenda on health care, the environment and gun control while taking aim at Mr. Trump. The Republicans are focused on gains in the economy, a gas tax repeal measure and warning the largely moderate and center-right voters in the districts that Democrats are turning sharply to the left.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the party’s arm in House races, is most concerned that two Republicans might prevail in the primary for Mr. Rohrabacher’s seat. The committee has broken with the state Democratic Party to endorse a candidate, Harley Rouda.
Meanwhile, the main House Democratic “super PAC” is pouring over $600,000 into commercials in the Los Angeles market, which reaches 27 congressional districts, to try to drive down Republican candidate Scott Baugh’s share of the vote against Mr. Rohrabacher, in hopes that a Democrat can finish in the top two and face the incumbent in November.
And the national campaign committee is supplementing the air attacks with a ground game that includes alerting voters about five “ghost candidates” who remain on the 16-person ballot.
What worries Democrats in a primary season where female candidates are having great success, though, is that two of the former candidates are women and could draw latent support from voters eager to support them. So paid canvassers are handing out pamphlets that cross out the names of some of the candidates who have withdrawn while noting two of them have endorsed Mr. Rouda.
It's a train wreck, and with the primary just ten days away, there's a good chance that Democrats will find a way to lose both these districts to Trump and the GOP through their own massive, massive incompetence.
There's a reason I've switched a decade ago to making individual donations to candidates in specific races and never to national Democrats, especially the DCCC, and this is a prime example of why.
Dems should have anticipated and adjusted for this contingency, and instead they're just making things worse. What a surprise, right?