When Democrats troll for Republican votes

When Proposition 14 passed some time ago, it was unavoidable that some races in substantially Democratic districts would end up featuring two Democrats advancing to the general election. In addition to forcing Democrats to spend money fighting each other through the November election, the backers of Proposition 14 created another problem for progressives in California: the inevitable fact that some Democrats, especially those with less Democratic support, would start trying to appeal to Republicans in the hopes of getting enough centrist and conservative votes to beat their Democratic opponents. This was, after all, one of the stated goals of Proposition 14: the backers explicitly said that they hoped that it would lead to more moderate politicians winning elections, since candidates supposedly had to appeal to all ideological blocs in their districts.

Well, it’s happening. And no, we’re not just talking about targeted mail pieces or tweaked phonebanking scripts. We’re talking about aggressive, public attempts to win Republican support, and Democrats who support their party ought to take notice wherever this happens.

Take the case of the legendary 30th Congressional District race, which is pitting Congressmembers Howard Berman and Brad Sherman against each other. Brian wrote on Tuesday about how Berman is touting the endorsements of 2008 Republican nominee Senator John McCain, as well as two other non-Democrats: conservative Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and “independent” Joe Lieberman, who is hardly beloved in Democratic circles. If you take a look at the numbers from the primary election, it’s not surprising why Berman would feel the need to do this: Brad Sherman won in June by 10 percent, but over 22% of the vote went to Republicans. Absent a sea-change among Democratic voters, Berman will probably need to win a substantial number of them to make up ground. The question is, will touting the endorsements of John McCain and Joe Lieberman turn Democrats against him? It should: If I have a choice between someone who’s being supported by Graham and McCain and someone who’s not, I’ll take “not” every day of the week.

Even more striking is news out of the race in Assembly District 10, whose general election pits Asm. Michael Allen against San Rafael City Councilmember Marc Levine. Here, the electoral situation is similar to the one in the 30th Congressional: Allen beat Levine by 7 points in the primary, but over 20% of the vote went to a Republican as well. A couple of weeks ago, Levine was seen on news footage attending the opening of the Marin County Republican Party/Mitt Romney headquarters–even though he’s on his county’s Democratic Central Committee-and joined with their hardest-core partisans in rallying for Mitt Romney before the RNC Convention in Tampa (1:50 mark of the video).

These types of things–touting endorsements from prominent Republicans in partisan offices, or trolling for votes at a rally for Mitt Romney–are, in my opinion, things that a Democratic candidate who wants to represent the party in office simply can’t do. I know that in a Prop 14 world, Democrats will sometimes have to target Republican voters to win. But touting endorsements from McCain and Graham-or even worse, attending a rally of local die-hard supporters of Mitt Romney? The natural implication of these tactics is that those people would have any reason at all to support you over your Democratic opponent because there’s at least something they agree with you on, whether it’s choice, equality, tax policy, or anything else of value from the Democratic perspective. Going there, resorting to that, is a clear signal that you’re not as good a Democrat as your opponent is, so you’re going in the other direction.

This is, of course, our first election cycle under Proposition 14, so maybe Democrats will get smarter about this type of thing in the future. Or maybe they won’t, and guarantee themselves some negative blog coverage in the process.

4 thoughts on “When Democrats troll for Republican votes”

  1. And as I’ve noted in the past, if neither candidate is acceptable to me, I don’t vote — after all, the number of votes needed for a recall petition is based on the number of votes cast.

    But, more to the point:

    This is, of course, our first election cycle under Proposition 14, so maybe Democrats will get smarter about this type of thing in the future. Or maybe they won’t, and guarantee themselves some negative blog coverage in the process.

    The only thing that will guarantee that it won’t happen is if these democrats chasing republicans lose.  

    Two distinct future possibilities:  If in future, one sees this kind of event, the state party should make it worth it for the second place finisher not to campaign.  Two ways:  incentive/promise of support for future elections or disincentive:  announce that any same party runoff winner who finished second in the open election will not get good committee assignments, etc.

    Proposition 14 is awful for the voters.  It should be repealed, and I’d sign any petition to do so.

  2. Really, this is not a bad thing

    Now, you’ll know who the opportunists are

    Which Democrats are willing to work with McCain and Graham

    At the state level, I’d like to see Demcorats (and Republicans) more amenable to compromise

    This is just another way to judge Democrats

    My Congresswoman, Nancy Pelosi is not seeking Republican votes

  3. I know I look at this differently than most, but I still feel the need to add my two cents.  long before the open primary, Democrats helped Republicans and vice versa, but they kept it all hidden.  You can read for example about Jack Kennedy’s father helping Richard Nixon in his Senate race and literally dozens of other examples.  The open primary simply made it all a little more public and allowed regular voters the chance to have the same influence on elections.  Maybe it’s a good thing and maybe it’s a bad thing, but the people in Washington have never placed party loyalty as a high virtue and one of the things members used to be told when they were elected was that there were not two political groups in Washington, but as many different views as there were members.  When you make the statement about Nancy Pelosi, you are both factually incorrect and also tactically misrepresenting her.  I walked precincts in her first congressional election and she definitely sought and received support from Republican voters in that race.  She also seeks Republican votes whenever she thinks she can get them for something she wants in congress.  It doesn’t change who she is or what she stands for, but she looks to add to her support constantly which is what makes her great.  She also doesn’t need to make statements, because she is adding votes to whatever cause she is working for.  My point in all of that is since I think sites like this are for exchanging ideas about the best way to make the system more responsible to average people is that you change things by the individuals you elect and although you might have a rooting interest in the Presidential race, the most important thing most of you can do is to find a good local candidate and really help them out.  But I think you always look for ways to broaden your appeal.  To give an easy example from an issue where Dems are split, if you are pro growth, then you are also as a Democrat, probably pro jobs and can get pro business support.  If you are anti development, you can probably get support from Rep;ublicans who are worried about crime and traffic.  And so on and so forth.  But the point is on every issue you are not trying to express just your views, but always expanding by looking for common ground.

  4. I will also add on CD 30 that both candidates sought support from the same people and Berman so far has been lucky or unlucky enough to get that support.  However just because Sherman didn’t get that support, you shouldn’t think that he doesn’t work just as closely with those elected officials.  Sherman was the only Democrat from California to endorse Joe Lieberman against Ned Lamont after Lamont beat him in the primary and worked hard to get Lieberman back in the Senate.  He and Lieberman were close allies on foreign affairs and it was a bit of a surprise when Lieberman went with Berman, but there are often reasons for decisions in politics that I know nothing about.  But the more important thing is that I am hoping grassroots Democrats who live in Republican areas will also take advantage of the open primary if there are no good candidates of their own to support.  In the future if you can find moderate Republicans who are say members of a local school board, you can not only challenge the leaders of the very far right, you can also force them to spend enormous amounts of money and time to fight off those challenges.  I think you can not only make a difference, but you can force elected officials to become aware of groups they have never paid attention to in the past and hopefully to change the overall outlook of politics in California.  JMO!

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