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.