Democrats for Donnelly as a Campaign Strategy?

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

Some Democrats fervently believe that Tim Donnelly as Republican Party standard-bearer could further damage the Republican brand and hurt Republican candidates in other races. Under the top two primary, voters can cast a ballot for any candidate. With Jerry Brown’s commanding lead in all polls in the governor’s race might Democrats concoct some mischief to make sure Donnelly faces Brown in November?

A whispering campaign urging some loyal Democrats to vote for Donnelly in the open primary to assure Donnelly a place on the November ballot wouldn’t work according to Allan Hoffenblum, a keen observer of the California political scene and publisher of the California Target Book which tracks candidate elections. “It would have to be out in the open, you would need to use persuasion techniques and that couldn’t be kept secret. And it would cost money.”

However, Hoffenblum says that it might be possible for a mischief effort to boost the Donnelly campaign by running ads against Donnelly’s opponents in the primary, particularly his best-funded opponent, Neel Kashkari.

It’s been done before, Hoffenblum reminded me, although he didn’t have to since I was involved on the receiving end of such mischief. When former Los Angeles mayor Richard Riordan was seemingly running away with the Republican nomination for governor in 2002, Garry South, Gov. Gray Davis’s campaign strategist hit Riordan with negative ads during the primary. I was on the Riordan team. The shots hit their mark and Riordan’s huge lead in early polls vanished as Bill Simon bested him on Election Day.

Hoffenblum suggested that Democrats eager to see Donnelly as the Republican facing Brown might try to help pick the Republican nominee with negative ads against Kashkari.

Hoffenblum said such a strategy could alter the results of down ticket races in the November election.

He specifically noted that Donnelly’s history with the Minutemen organization might energize Latino voters in November to come out and vote for Brown. In turn that could put in jeopardy some Republican congressional incumbents like Jeff Denham and David Valadao who face tight races.

Mischief campaigns have been rumored often over the course of the state’s political history and rarely do they happen or make a difference. But in the Riordan case it certainly did work. Something to watch out for.

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