Tuesday, May 8, 2012




          No, the Republican presidential primary to be held in California June 5 will not have particular importance, with Mitt Romney all but crowned the Republican nominee against Democratic President Barack Obama.

          But that takes nothing away from the watershed nature of the upcoming vote, one of those events that marks the opening of an era.
          Here are some things that will happen for sure:

-- The primary will create many November runoffs pitting two Democrats or two Republicans for seats in Congress or the Legislature.

-- From now on, it won’t necessarily be a requirement to declare loyalty to any particular political party to achieve at least a modicum of electoral success.

--  The results will demonstrate more clearly than ever that the California Republican Party is a weak shell of its former self, as there will be many districts with no GOP runoff entrant.

Along with these certainties, there’s also the strong possibility that, combined with term limits, the primary will assure that fully half the members of the next state Assembly will be freshmen. Even if it’s not quite half, a bunch of complete greenhorns will still have to confront some of the nastiest problems in California history.

          Looking at likely intra-party runoffs, most analysts gravitate first to the classic race between Democratic congressional veterans Howard Berman and Brad Sherman in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles. But there are enough Republicans in that district so that if they consolidate around one candidate, the GOP may yet have a November candidate there. So the Republican vote will be the most interesting primary result in that district.

          There is no such Republican threat in the 42nd District, covering an area stretching from Compton to the Los Angeles Harbor area. There, current Democratic Congresswomen Laura Richardson and Janice Hahn are assured spots in an intra-party November runoff.

          The same is almost guaranteed for Republican Congressman Gary Miller and Bob Dutton, the former GOP leader in the state Senate who lists himself on the ballot as a small businessman. They are as alone as Richardson and Hahn in the 31st District primary covering much of Riverside County and a bit of eastern Los Angeles County. The rules dictate that no matter who wins the primary in those districts, there will still be a rematch this fall.

          Meanwhile, in San Bernardino County, longtime Democratic Congressman Joe Baca and veteran Democratic state Sen. Gloria Negrete McLeod have only a Green Party candidate for competition. “Unless a Green can suddenly come into an awful lot of campaign money, this will surely be an all-Democrat affair,” says Allan Hoffenblum, a former GOP consultant who publishes the California Target Book that closely tracks every legislative and congressional race in the state.

          The one congressional race seeming most likely to pit an independent with a chance for eventual victory (ballot label: No Party Preference, or NPP) against a Republican lies in Ventura County, where GOP state Sen. Tony Strickland ranks eighth in the nation in fund-raising and probably has a runoff slot cinched. That leaves three Democrats vying with county Supervisor Linda Parks, a former Republican, for the other spot. Their four-way contest could be very tight, with Assemblywoman Julia Brownley seeming to emerge recently as the leading Democrat. But Parks could be the eventual winner in a district that seems to crave a moderate, yet has long been represented by ultra-conservatives in Congress and the Legislature.

          There will be plenty of intra-party matchups in Northern California, too, starting in District 1, stretching from the Oregon state line through Nevada County. There, ex-Republican state Sen. Sam Aanestad and current state Sen. Doug LaMalfa have seemed destined to face off ever since incumbent Wally Herger opted to retire. Either way, this district is assured continued conservative representation.

          By contrast, liberals are fighting it out in the nearby District 2, where Democratic Assemblyman Jared Huffman faces a host of ultra-liberals who have not always been happy with his strong support of organized labor. It’s conceivable Huffman could draw a Republican runoff opponent. But it’s hard to imagine him not making the fall race at all.

          Over in Oakland, longtime Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Lee has opposition from Democrat Justin Jelincic and NPP’er Marilyn Singleton, a physician.

          Legislative races offer even more potential for such intra-party or party vs. no-party matchups.

          One thing for sure: There will be far more all-Democrat races than all-Republican matchups this fall. That’s because Republican voter registration has fallen so low (barely 30 percent of all registered voters) that there are very few districts where they have enough numbers to dominate either in the primary or in November.

          This weakness has been masked in the past, when the party was guaranteed a slot in the runoff everyplace it even put up a candidate.

          Put it all together, and this election will surely be a watershed, producing a November ballot unlike any California has ever known.

Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net

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