Chaos is brewing. Or at least the potential for it is, thanks to the California “jungle” primary system. The top-two open primary means that two candidates move on to the general election, irrespective of party affiliation. Developed in 2009, the “jungle” primary came to be while California was struggling to pass a budget. The Democrats’ budget contained a tax hike, which no Republican had interest in co-signing. However, Republican Abel Maldonado, then a state senator, saw this as an opportunity to leverage his party status and put in place the top-two system. And while voters passed the proposal by a 54 to 46 margin, the system hasn’t always spelled success for Dems, according to Mother Jones:
“In 2012, Democrats suffered an embarrassing defeat in a Southern California congressional district where they held an edge in voter registration. Four Democrats ran, split the vote, and then-Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar finished third behind two Republicans in the primary. In 2014, history nearly repeated itself. Again, four Democrats ran, and again, they split the primary vote. Meanwhile, according to Brad Roe, a Southern California strategist who had worked for a Republican candidate in the race, ‘Aguilar phoned it in, thinking he had it in the bag.’ Aguilar only narrowly landed in second place in the primary — just 200 votes ahead of a Republican.”
In 2018, Dems are armed with enthusiasm, and an anti-Trump Blue Wave with the power to take control of the House from the GOP.
According to House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., speaking to USA Today, Dems have a shot at winning in more than 50 congressional districts nationwide. Only 24 seats are needed to flip the House while maintaining the 194 seats they currently hold. In California, the Dems are targeting 10 districts where Hillary Clinton won the presidential vote despite the seats being Republican-held. “California is absolutely crucial to Democrats hopes of retaking the majority,” said Andrew Godinich, Western Press Secretary for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, speaking to KCRW. “The path to the majority runs through California.”
The Blue Wave enthusiasm, however, may hurt Dems in these districts. “It’s a concern about having a Democrat in the final two,” said Hoyer. “We are focused on that and trying to make sure that we have at least one, maybe two, that we think are viable. In some areas, we have like five or six Democrats and two or three Republicans and that makes it challenging.”
Take the seat of California’s 48th district as an example. Currently held by Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, the district represents one of seven GOP-held districts in California that voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Rohrabacher has 15 opponents, eight of those are Democrats. “Even if [the Republicans] have a smaller pie, each individual gets a bigger slice of their smaller pie. We split the pie among all of our fractious candidates. And no Democrat can get through to November,” explains Terra Lawson-Remer to NPR, one of the organizers of a grassroots SuperPac called Flip the 49th. Meanwhile, talk is circulating that Rohrabacher is gaming the system by running a “loser,” making the attempt to defeat him from the Republican side even less genuine.
And while Dem candidates are also being tactical, to have a Democratic candidate land in the top-two runoff, voters will also need to be shrewd.
As much as a turn-off as it is, a successful Blue Wave will come from voting more with strategy, and less with heart. That’s why Dems who decide to drop out of their respective races are now being cheered, including Christina Prejean.
“As much as the people may have wanted to support our campaign, what I saw was that because it’s an open primary, the threat of us splitting the vote was far too strong and the fear was there,” Prejean told NPR. “We cannot allow for two Republicans to get past the primary. We just can’t let it happen.”
Determining the top-two Democratic candidates in each district and voting for one of the candidates is the surest way Dems can vote in a unified manner. If each individual cast a vote for their favorite flavor of candidate there’s a strong likelihood that Dems will be ‘Aguilar’d’ once again.
At The Fullest, we encourage our readers to vote. In California, register to vote no later than May 21st online for the June 5th election.