Top Two Follies

It’ll be days before we get final returns from yesterday’s primaries in California. But what we do know is that turnout was terrible; the electorate was likely a lot more conservative than the voters who will show up in November; and the state’s Top Two system creates a lot of strange strategery and sometimes unlikely results.

For example: though California is a very blue state these days, the primary for State Controller might well produce a general election featuring two Republicans. One of them, Ashley Swearengin, is definitely moving on to November, and a second, David Evans, is locked in a virtual tie with two prominent Democrats. Similarly, Democrats could get shut out of the general election in two potentially winnable congressional districts, CA-25 and CA-31.

Democrats did better in playing the game in Silicon Valley’s CA-17, where tech-industry-based Democrat Ro Khanna (a New Demish type) will be in a runoff against incumbent and traditional liberal Mike Honda.

One Republican nightmare that was averted was the possibility that former Minuteman leader Tim Donnelly could finish second in the gubernatorial primary, becoming not only road kill for Jerry Brown but a fresh reminder to Latino voters of the nativist leanings of the GOP “base.” It’s an unusual event when you hear smart Republicans cheering for a chance to be represented in a major contest by the guy that ran TARP. But right now Neel Kashkari is all they’ve got.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.