John McAtee, a 52-year-old voter from Elk Grove, isn’t happy about the state of his ballot this year. In two legislative contests, the Republican will not have a candidate of his own party to choose from. For state Assembly, he can pick between Democrats Jim Cooper and Darrell Fong. For state Senate, his choices are Democrats Roger Dickinson and Richard Pan. He considers the scenario one drawback of living in a heavily Democratic area. “I am not moving, but you take your lumps,” McAtee said. A reverse scenario is playing out in a Roseville-centered congressional district, where veteran conservative Rep. Tom McClintock is challenged by fellow Republican Art Moore. More than 116,000 Democrats there have no opportunity to select one of their own. Democrat Michael Adams said he’s met Moore at district events and also has attended McClintock’s town-hall meetings. Adams, a 68-year-old resident of Roseville, said the upcoming congressional contest boils down to this: “Voting for the lesser of two evils is what I have to do.” In California, 25 same-party contests populate the fall ballot, intraparty battles made possible by voter-approved Proposition 14 in June 2010. Under the measure, the top two candidates regardless of party advance to the general election.
The system is changing the mechanics of some campaigns, and putting many voters in an uncomfortable spot.
“I’ve knocked on some doors and people have said, ‘I’m not going to vote for a Democrat,’ ” Fong said. “Our job is to get them engaged and part of the process.”
Advocates of the open primary system expected that candidates would move to the middle in some races, eventually moderating a Legislature that for years gridlocked over budgets and other partisan matters. They anticipated that Republicans would choose Democrats less beholden to unions, or that Democrats would choose more environmentally friendly Republicans.