JONATHAN CHAIT JUNE 17, 2011
California's 36th district recently held a special election to replace retiring Rep. Jane Harman. The district hed a "jungle primary," in which candidates from both parties all run on the same ballot. Wall Street Journal opinion columnist Kimberly Strassel wants to know why nobody is investing this with the same significance as Kathy Hochul's surprise win in the New York special election:
In May, when Democrats pulled out a surprise victory in a special House election in New York, all the talk was about Medicare lessons for Republicans. Now on to California.
That's where another high-stakes special election will take place on July 12, to fill the seat of former Democratic Rep. Jane Harman. Lacking a sexy Mediscare plot, it isn't getting much national play. But the bottom line is that Democrats are struggling to hold on to a blue seat, offering a vivid preview of the extraordinary economic vulnerabilities the party faces going into a presidential election. There are lessons here, just as potent as those from New York. ...
When the dust settled on May 17, Ms. Hahn had claimed 24% of the vote. In second place, with 22%, and claiming the runoff spot, was a GOP candidate that most of the media had never mentioned: Craig Huey. A businessman, Mr. Huey had poured personal resources into a strong mail, TV and radio strategy, and garnered the endorsements of respected California Republicans.
But what really resonated with voters was Mr. Huey's laserlike focus on the economy and jobs. As Ms. Hahn and Ms. Bowen competed on who had a more progressive environmental record, Mr. Huey banged relentlessly on California's 12% unemployment rate, job-killing regulations, and record deficits. As the two Democratic heavyweights traded barbs over who had taken more "oil money," Mr. Huey touted his plans for reviving growth.
Let me suggest an alternate interpretation. In a jungle primary where you have many candidates from the majority party, it's possible for a candidate from the minority party to finish high in the running without necessarily commanding a major share of support within the electorate. In this case, the Republican's 24% of the vote does not in any way prove that his pro-growth message "resonated," nor that the result is in any way similar to the New York special election.
The alternative explanation is that the Republican's 24% total reflects a massive groundswell of support that's being covered up by the liberal media. You choose!