An interesting revelation at the USC Schwarzenegger Institute’s postmortem event on California’s U.S. Senate race:

The two candidates to emerge from the first round of voting in June – Kamala Harris and Loretta Sanchez – didn’t move to the center in the second round. They both moved left.

That was one clear conclusion about the race that was shared both by the scholars and the political strategists who spoke (Bill Carrick, who worked for Sanchez, and Sean Clegg, who worked for Harris) at the event.

It also runs counter to the design of the top two system California embraced six years ago. Top two is supposed to produce more moderate candidates by creating incentives for politicains to appeal to the center. This dynamic is supposed to be strongest in a race like the U.S. Senate contest, when two candidates from the same party advance to the second round of voting in November.

But Sanchez and Harris, both Democrats, didn’t move to the center. They went left.

The conversation with Carrick and Clegg, moderated by Politico’s David Siders, suggested a couple of reasons. For one thing, Harris and Sanchez were both candidates with long records of supporting progressive policies. It wouldn’t wash, Carrick argued with particular force, for Sanchez to suddenly embrace Republican policies to get Republican votes.

The other reason: the fact that fewer members of the party left out of the runoff—in this case Republicans—would be inclined to vote in the runoff. This made it even more important for Harris and Sanchez to win Democratic voters. And it made it less efficient to go after Republican voters, with so many of them expected not to vote in the U.S. Senate race.

I asked Carrick and Clegg about the arguments against top two on money and negativity—specifically that the top two requires more money and can encourage negative campaigning in a runoff between two candidates of the same party. The strategists said money remained an issue (both discussed struggles to raise money, particularly from Democratic donors who knew that a Democrat would be holding the U.S. Senate seat anyway), but disputed the idea that top two produces negativity—the Harris-Sanchez race wasn’t very negative, Clegg said.

Top two defenders among the academics and the audience argued that top two is still relatively new, and that voters and politicians are still adjusting to it. I found it hard to agree. Top two seems like an experiment that has already gone on six yeas too long.