Looking at the results of the recent Field Poll on the governor’s race, I came up with a theory I decided to run by two of the most knowledgeable political analysts in the state. I asked Allan Hoffenblum, editor and co-publisher of the Target Book and John Pitney, Jr., professor at Claremont McKenna College, if Jerry Brown maintained at least a 20-point lead over Neel Kashkari throughout the campaign would some Democratic voters decide ‘I don’t need to vote’ opening the door for some down ticket Republican victories?
Hoffenblum said the key is not so much turnout but the vote support for Brown. The lower the support for the governor, the greater chance there will be crossover voters who don’t vote a straight party line. “Should Brown receive 55% of the vote or less, it is possible for the Republican to achieve the cross over (non Republican) votes needed for a win. The closer he gets to 60%, the less likely the win.”
Hoffenblum argued, “Success of the down ballot GOP constitutional candidates (Lt. Gov. Controller, Sec. of State, etc.) is almost totally dependent on how well Kashkari does. It’s hardly unlikely that many voters, regardless of turnout, will vote for Brown to be governor, then vote Republican for Sec. of State or state Controller when they are likely to know nothing about those candidates except for the party preference.
“But, when it comes to congressional and state legislative candidates in truly competitive races, most voters will know who the two candidates are. If Democratic turnout is low, that could be good for Republican congressional and state legislative candidates, because that should decrease Brown’s margin of victory over Kashkari, which increases their chances for a win.”
Professor Pitney saw a partial analogy in the 2002 election. “Gray Davis was a heavy favorite, and turnout was low: 51% of registered voters, 36% of eligible adults,” he wrote. “The comparison isn’t perfect, since Gray Davis’s personal unfavorablity also weighed down turnout. Still, it’s worth noting that Bill Simon — despite running a not-great campaign — came within a few points of Davis. In the controller’s race, Tom McClintock came within three-tenths of one percent of Steve Westly.”
Pitney added, “The likelihood of continued Democratic control of the governorship and Legislature could work to Ashley Swearengin’s advantage in the race for controller. She could make a very plausible case that a fiscal watchdog from the opposite party would serve as a check and balance against one-party rule. During the Rockefeller years in New York, voters kept re-electing Democrat Arthur Levitt, Sr. as Comptroller (same job, different spelling) for that very reason.”
My take away from the analysts: In this election, some down ticket and local contests likely will be incentive for voters to come to the polls. Ironically, voters more interested in the local races will determine the margin in the governor’s race.