Tuesday's Primary First Under Top-Two Rule

May 31, 2012


This year’s primary election will be different than any since California became a state. It’s the first affected by California’s new top-two vote getter rule.  As a result some candidates are trying to figure out how to campaign.

Green Party Candidate Eric Peterson is one of six candidates running against incumbent San Farr in the 20th Congressional District, which represents the Monterey Bay Area.  In the past, one candidate from each party was automatically included on the November ballot.  But this primary is the first affected by the voter-approved top two candidate rule.  That means only the top-two vote getters move on to the general election.

Peterson says that reduces voter choice and he fears it also reduces the chance for his message to influence the race.  That is because there is relatively little news coverage of the primary election, and most third party candidates fund their own campaign.  So he is changing how he campaigns. Peterson says now he’s not focused on beating the incumbent; he’s is trying to beat everyone else. He says his number one opponent is Republican Jeff Taylor since Taylor gathered the second highest number of votes in the last Congressional campaign.

Like Petersen, Jeff Taylor is running on a budget.  He is a serious man with a deep faith in God matched only by his lack of faith in Government. But unlike Petersen, he is more positive about the top two rule even if it means there may be no Republican on the November ballot.  "I am OK with that if we get more a moderate individual in that position. Especially someone with some business sense, like myself, that has had some business experience. I think that is really, really important,” said Taylor.

Electing more moderate candidates was the idea behind the top two candidate approach.  Jim Mayer is the Executive Director of California Forward, the organization that pushed the new law.  He hopes it will do two things: draw independents to vote in the primary because there’s a wider choice of candidates, and force the candidates to broaden their appeal to attract more voters.  “It may not mean that in their heart of hearts that they are more moderate, this isn’t really about moderate elected officials. This is about elected officials who feel like they have the authority and the mandate from the people who elected them to reach across the aisle and develop some bi-partisan compromises," said Mayer.  He concedes this is a work in progress and expects it will take several election cycles to really accomplish more bi-partisanship.

Eric Peterson says this election offers an advantage and a disadvantage. The advantage is Californians have a history of not voting along party lines. His disadvantage is he has to do well in the primary or sit out the general election.  On Tuesday, he and the rest of the candidates will find out who sits out the November election.