This year’s California elections will test the theory that having independently drawn districts and a “top-two” primary ballot will result in a less polarized, more collegial and more relevant political structure. It’s already evident that these changes are altering campaign dynamics. For one thing, they mean more heated intraparty contests because politicians were thrown together by an independent redistricting and, for the first time, declined-to-state voters have a role in choosing who goes on to November. Under “top-two” rules, it’s possible that in several districts, where large fields of candidates fragment the voter pool, the November election could pit an independent against a Democrat or Republican, while the other party’s candidate is frozen out.
When politicians of the same party run against each other, they rarely disagree on substantive issues, so some intraparty duels have become personal attacks. The most obvious example is the multi-million-dollar shootout between veteran Democratic Congressmen Howard Berman and Brad Sherman, who were thrown together in the San Fernando Valley’s 30th Congressional District, with support for Israel an emotional flashpoint.