By Steve Peace /

Election reform advocates have been scratching their heads over the failure of statewide candidates in California to tap into the rich vein of independent voters empowered by the nonpartisan top-two primary. Even the leading nonpartisan candidates on the ballot, Steve Poizner for Insurance Commissioner and Lt. Gov candidate Gayle McLaughlin, have skipped the opportunity to target their messaging to get out independent voters.

Six months ago, some political insiders believed that Democrat State Controller John Chiang was best positioned to benefit from the nonpartisan system. But his early campaign seemed to spin its wheels and even after a campaign team shakeup, the messaging remained mired in insider partisan gobbledygook rather than emphasizing Chiang’s successes in facing down partisan politicians during the state’s financial crisis.

Now, with just one week left, Chiang’s messaging has finally found its footing.

Chiang supporters in the business community, in particular, are breathing a sigh of relief but wondering if the campaign waited too long to focus on what many thought was his greatest strength.

This puts his campaign about two weeks behind the Villaraigosa campaign which benefited from independent expenditures from Charter School supporters highlighting the former LA mayor’s battle against the teachers union on school reform.

Meantime, Republican businessman John Cox has out run Republican Assemblyman Travis Allen on virtually every front, giving him the edge for the number two spot by consolidating Republicans aided by Democrat Gavin Newsom’s focus on November, as evidenced by the resources spent in trying to pick his opponent (Cox), Newsom has focused on building up Cox as a strong conservative.

CNN published this nutty analysis by Ron Brownstein, former editor of the LA Times and a respected longtime figure in California journalism. Hard to believe that of all people, a former editor of the LA Times would forget Gary South (Gray Davis’ campaign strategist) running ads against Richard Riordan in the closed Republican Primary to keep him from making the general.


Gary delivered Simon as the Republican nominee but set in motion the vitriol that produced Gray Davis’ recall. More understandable is Brownstein forgetting (or never knowing) how both Democrats and Republicans manipulated general election ballots by secretly funding third party candidate ballot access. For example, as a pro-choice Democrat in a conservative district I was always the beneficiary of a pro-life Libertarian to siphon off 3 or 4 percentage points from any Republican contender.

There is a long history of front running campaigns deploying this strategy in the days of closed primaries: not always with the intended results.

An Independent Campaign

Meantime, in the race for Insurance Commissioner, Steve Poizner should be poised for a first place finish against Democratic opponents with very little name ID and limited campaigns. But, whether he finishes first or second, Poizner’s November campaign as an independent will get national attention.

Less certain is the Lt. Governor race where independent Gayle McLaughlin has not mobilized significant funding despite getting a big boost from Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders.

Support for nonpartisan primary

Californian’s continue to enthusiastically support the nonpartisan primary. But, the partisan political types continue to gnash their teeth rather than adapt to the new reality. Much of this is the consequence of living in a country in which 48 states have partisan, party nominated primary systems and only Washington and California have voter nominated primaries.

When the national political frame of reference starts with partisan presumptions, it is easy for the media to get dragged into judging outcomes by partisan metrics. Nowhere is this more evident than in crowded primaries where the parties feed the “hair on fire” narrative “the California system could produce no Democrat or no Republican in the November ballot!”

Uh, yeh! That’s the point. Eventually, the political types will catch up with the public. But, looks like we will have to wait for 2020.

This article was originally published 5/29/2018 on IVN.