California’s new election ground rules have turned Congressman Henry Waxman’s campaign for a 20th term in the House into an interesting bit of political theater that may be a coming attraction for future races.
The top two Primary system and new district lines have forced Rep. Waxman to wage a vigorous re-election campaign against a self-funded conservative–Bill Bloomfield–who would like to have the world believe he is another Michael Bloomberg. Although the 33rd CD continues to have a 17% Democratic registration advantage and delivered a 20% margin to Barack Obama in 2008 and a 16% margin to governor Jerry Brown in 2010, half of the district is new to Waxman. Under the old system, the veteran liberal standard bearer would cruise to victory without lifting a finger, but the rules have changed.
Bloomfield is a wealthy Manhattan Beach developer and avid Republican contributor, who changed his registration to No Party Preference just before filing for his Congressional candidacy. With his large war chest, he finished second in the June Primary and is now waging an upwards of $4 million campaign–mostly his own money–and forced Waxman to spend more than $1 million and campaign actively in the district–dollars and times that in past years would have gone to help Democrats in marginal districts.
The record would strongly suggest that Bloomfield is a rock-ribbed Republican trying to pull a fast one on voters by masquerading as an independent moderate. A look at his website reveals warm and fuzzy issues, positions that sound like warmed over pabulum from an old Jimmy Stewart movie. Nevertheless, Bloomfield’s financial resources have enabled him to saturate the airwaves and mailboxes with his candidate persona. Waxman, in turn, is having to make sure voters know that a vote for his opponent is a voter for a GOP stalwart who will walk in lockstep with Speaker Boehner, Republican Leader Eric Cantor and the Tea Party caucus.
Congressman Waxman is almost certain to prevail in a district that encompasses much of his familiar territory in Beverly Hills and West Los Angeles and adds beach cities to the south and the more conservative Palos Verdes Peninsula. This is a high turnout, well educated electorate with a median income approaching $100,000. Voters are not likely to be fooled by the Bloomfield charade. Waxman is a high profile, effective lawmaker, who liberal stances are not out of step with the majority of voters in the new district.
Even so, what is an oddity this year, may become much more commonplace in future elections. With the Republican brand so badly tarnished in California and little tolerance for moderates within the party hierarchy, many with political ambitions may see their future in registering as No Party Preference–NPP is rapidly becoming California’s second party, now trailing GOP registration by only a few points and moving up rapidly. A moderate who works the vineyards in non-partisan city and county politics could prove to be a formidable NPP candidate in a marginal district against either a Republican or Democratic run-off foe.
The jury is out on whether the new redistricting system and the move to a top-two primary will achieve the goals of moving politics to the center and making districts more competitive, but there is no question that new scenarios will be making future elections a lot less predictable.