June election to test new open primary rules

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Democrats vying for state and federal office in a few Bay Area races could be pitted against each other in the November election, depending on the outcome of California’s new open primary system.

The so-called “top two” primary on June 5 — which allows the overall first-place and second-place vote getters to advance to the general election regardless of party affiliation — gets its first test on ballots that were mailed to voters Monday.

Although the system is being discussed in political circles as favorable to moderate Democrats who can successfully appeal to suddenly eligible conservative primary voters, University of San Francisco political science Professor Corey Cook said it’s too early to tell if that will be the case. Of more than 100 statewide races, Cook has identified only 15 to 20 in which Democrats or independents could run in the same general election instead of the traditional Democrat-versus-Republican scenario.

“Republicans will play more of a decisive role in the campaigns,” Cook said. “But I tend to think that’s not real likely to have a profound effect.”

Cook said when Democrats do end up opposing one another in the general election, more money is likely to be raised and spent as issues become nuanced and obfuscated.

Democrats Michael Breyer and Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting could end up in such a contest, along with Assemblyman Jerry Hill and his opponent, termed-out Assemblywoman Sally Lieber, who can now run against Hill due to redrawn district lines. In the District 14 congressional race, U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier is facing off against Michael Moloney, who ran against her as a Republican in 2010 but has since become a Democrat.

The open primary is unlikely to be a factor in re-election bids for Assemblyman Tom Ammiano and state Sen. Mark Leno. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi faced a Republican in 2010 and is now going up against five opponents, including three fellow Democrats. U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein has attracted 23 opponents, most of them Republicans.

Veteran local political consultant Jim Ross said that although the open primary is unlikely to loom large in this election cycle, it could one day create a statewide version of San Francisco’s political makeup, with Democrats identifying as either progressive on the left or moderate on the right. No official schism should be expected, he said.

“The Republican Party in the state has become irrelevant in many ways, and business interests, mostly, are looking for more influence,” Ross said. “One of the strengths and weaknesses of the Democratic Party is that it’s open to a wide range of views and thoughts.”


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