California Primary: Welcome to the 'Jungle'
California's 2014 primary has been notable for low levels of public interest--and high levels of outside funding. The state's relatively new "jungle" primary system (also known as a "blanket" or "top-two" primary) means that all candidates, from all parties, and for all offices, compete for every single vote. The major parties have not yet adjusted to the new rules. Yet they could lead to some interesting results heading into the November runoff.
The governor's race is being closely watched. Incumbent Democrat Jerry Brown has high approval ratings, and a massive campaign bank account. He will win on Tuesday--but the race for second place has become a crucial battle in the Tea Party-vs.-Establishment struggle within the GOP. Though the Mississippi Senate primary will prove more decisive in that contest, the California result--too close to call--will have important symbolic value.
Two other statewide races are in the spotlight for Breitbart News, because they each feature future Republican stars. Civic engagement expert Pete Peterson has run a high-minded campaign for Secretary of State, benefiting from the spectacular corruption scandal that hit his main Democrat rival, State Sen. Leland Yee. Fresno mayor Ashley Swearengin has done well in her race as Democrat rivals John Perez and Betty Yee have squabbled.
We will be watching several congressional races very closely, starting with our own district, Henry Waxman's 33rd, where a field of 18 is competing in what is easily the nation's zaniest contest. Author and spiritual guru Marianne Williamson has run a very strong campaign that shows grass roots Democrats, too, are as tired of the Beltway establishment as Tea Party activists are (though that is where the similarities end). Several leading Democrats are fighting for the chance to succeed Waxman, but a strong campaign by Republican prosecutor Elan Carr has left open the distinct possibility that the district's next representative will be from another party.
The Silicon Valley race in the 17th district is expected to produce a bitter fall contest between two well-funded Democrats--and two rising Asian-American constituencies. The 7th district could produce a surprising result if Tea Party-backed Igor Birman can pull off an upset against the self-funding establishment favorite, Doug Ose. A few other districts, targeted by both parties in November, have produced close races and will be worth a look.
In the state legislature, the most prominent race is the contest for the 26th State Senate district, where Sandra Fluke puts her national name recognition up against the local political chops of Ben Allen. Both are Democrats.
So the major storylines in California will be: grass roots (Donnelly, Williamson) versus establishment (Kashkari, Lieu/Greul); East Asians (Rep. Mike Honda, CA-17) and South Asians (former Obama administration official Ro Khanna); gays (Carl DeMaio, running in CA-52) and feminists (Fluke); and--hopefully--the emergence of a few fresh faces to take the tired political debate in the Golden State a few steps away from the political precipice.
And above it all rises Jerry Brown, presiding over state governments past, present, and (likely) future, touting his achievements even as voters in several counties consider secession on the ballot. Perhaps California will turn out to be ungovernable after all--which is what the bulk of voters may have already decided. There are still a few sparks of interest among voters, though, and certainly some hope that Tuesday could be a chance to start anew.