Since California’s Proposition 14 passed in 2010, all partisan candidates — except those running for president — appear on the same primary ballot, regardless of party. Then the two leading contenders face off in the general election. Like so many other electoral reforms in the state, this top-two primary system isn’t shaking out quite as intended. Reformers promised more moderate candidates and more competitive races. Instead we’ve got something that looks like one-party rule. The race to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer is exhibit A. State Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris and U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez were the survivors of a free-for-all nominating contest with 34 candidates, including Democrats, Republicans and a litany of minor party and independent candidates. But in deep blue California, where Democrats outnumber Republicans by better than a 3 to 2 margin, it should be no surprise that Democrats Harris and Sanchez prevailed.
The Senate race is not the only example. Of the 53 contests for the House of Representatives, seven have candidates from the same political party. Of the 80 state assembly contests, 15 do. Of the 20 state Senate races, five do. Most, though not all, are between two Democrats. And this isn’t a fluke: The same thing happened in state elections in 2012 and 2014.
California hasn’t had a competitive race for a U.S. Senate seat since … 1992 — and now general election voters get to choose between two liberal Democrats.
But it’s the U.S. Senate race that really rankles. California hasn’t had a competitive race for a U.S. Senate seat since Boxer and Dianne Feinstein were elected in 1992 — and now general election voters get to choose between two liberal Democrats with only nuanced differences in their policy views.