Top-Two Primary Twist on the State’s Top Job – Next Time

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

Reading the media reports and commentary about California governor’s race one would conclude that Jerry Brown might rack up the biggest one sided victory for that office since Earl Warren captured 91% essentially running against himself in 1946. Warren was nominated for governor by both major political parties, something that could happen in those days.

Previously here, I pondered whether Brown could duplicate Warren’s feat if the old rules were in place. But what is more interesting for our time is the possibility of seeing a same party run-off for the state’s top job.

That won’t happen this year as Governor Jerry Brown will be sure to face either Assemblyman Tim Donnelly or financial expert Neel Kashkari. Given the lack of name ID both leading Republican candidates have with the voting public and the relative lack of money to run primary campaigns, it is interesting to contemplate what might have happened if a well-know, well-healed Democrat were running in the current field.

Two Democrats running off in November would be a distinct possibility.

And, that is what we may see if the Republican Party doesn’t get its act together and produce strong candidates when the next gubernatorial election rolls around.

If Gov. Brown wins re-election this year as predicted, he will be prohibited from running again. A number of potential gubernatorial candidates would seek the office. Circumstances could change over four years of course, but often mentioned as viable gubernatorial candidates are Attorney General Kamala Harris, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaragoisa, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, current Controller John Chiang, hedge-fund billionaire Tom Steyer and others.

The political math indicates that a number of strong Democratic candidates splitting the vote would allow a solid Republican to grab one of the top two spots. But will the party come up with a candidate to meet the challenge?

Probably yes, given that many Republicans decided not to test the waters this year in what they considered a suicide run against a popular governor.

What is also fascinating to contemplate is what business would do if all the top gubernatorial candidates were Democrats. Could they pick a favorite out of the field? Newsom has worked to suggest ways to improve the economy. Villaraigosa has stood against his old comrades in the teacher’s unions. Johnson is for education reform. The other candidates would emphasize their strengths that appeal to business.

Interesting stuff for political junkies. And a warning to the Republican Party.

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