California’s Boxer Rebellion (Updated)

The cheery news that California’s Senator Babs Boxer is going to retire at the end of this term is tempered by the fact that California is such a heavily Democratic state now that she is likely to be replaced by someone just as bad, but 20 years younger and therefore prolonging California’s national embarrassment for another couple of decades. (You know things are bad when Dianne Feinstein is considered the more sensible member of your Senate delegation.) All of the early press speculation is about the large number of prominent Democrats who may run, with only a smattering of no-name (Duf Sundheim?) or implausible Republican figures like Arnold (who?) or part-time California resident Mitt Romney.

Keep in mind a nightmare wrinkle in California’s new primary system: we now have the single “jungle” primary in which everyone from all parties is on the ballot together, with the top two primary vote getters going to the November ballot. It is not inconceivable that Democrats, by their superior numbers, could get the top two spots, and you’d have two Democrats candidates on the ballot in November, with no Republican it all. This is already happening in a few congressional districts in CA. It could be fun to watch two liberal Democrats spending millions bashing each other in a general election, but discouraging for Republicans, who would be shut out.

But . . . hmmm, here’s where it might get interesting. Assume a crowded Democratic field with several good, well-funded candidates. Assume Republicans could rally around just two really good candidates. Suppose a large and divided Democratic field left the two Republicans as the top vote getters in the primary. Could Republicans plausibly sneak away with California’s Senate seat by exploiting this ill-thought “good government” jungle primary reform?

It is worth pondering. It is hard to clear a primary field for national offices like the Senate because political ambition is overweening, but it would be fun to watch the liberal panic if it came about. GOP party elders in California, if there are such, should think strategically about this.

P.S.  Or, if Republicans really want to be clever, they won’t run a candidate at all, but would instead back Mickey Kaus in the Democratic field.  Wouldn’t that be fun.

UPDATE: Turns out the Krazy Kids at the DailyKos are worried about my scenario:

The biggest GOP name in the state is probably San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, who is up for re-election in 2016 and would probably prefer to keep his powder dry for later. However, California’s top-two primary system means we can’t quite dismiss the possibility of a Republican pickup here. If enough Democrats run here and primary turnout is weak enough, it’s possible that two Republicans could sneak through and grab both general election spots. It would take a lot of luck for the GOP to pull this off, but Team Blue definitely should be on guard for this.

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