Jeremy B. White at Politico:
There is no other state where Democrats wield the absolute power the party enjoys in California. Democrats occupy every statewide office and command two-thirds majorities in both houses. Former GOP strongholds like Orange County have shaded blue. Republicans don’t just lag behind Democrats — there are also fewer registered Republicans than no-party-preference voters.
Before 2011, when the state replaced party primaries with a general primary after which the top two vote-getters square off in the general election, establishment-backed Democrats running in safe seats could often sail to assured victories; now, they often findthemselves fighting for their political lives against a rival from their own party.
The liberal-versus-moderate dynamic in California presaged not only the rift that blew open in this year’s presidential primaries, it established its parameters: between unions and environmental activists; between single-payer advocates and Democrats working to expand coverage within the health care system; between educational reformers and teachers unions; between law enforcement and those who regard the legal system as hopelessly biased against communities of color.
California’s experience with top-two voting, rather than partisan primaries, also offers a lesson for other states that are dominated by a single party — like Democrats in Massachusetts or Republicans in Mississippi. In safe seats that would have allowed an earlier generation of Democrats to comfortably coast to victory, California now regularly sees battles between Democrats who differ on issues that otherwise would split along party lines.
Traditionally conservative interests like the oil industry and charter schools increasingly court friendly Democrats — often by contributing money to a constellation of innocuously named political action committees that then spend millions on advertising: In districts where a Democratic win looks inevitable, the thinking goes, better to boost the Democrat who’s likely to vote with you than a Republican who is likely to lose.
David Townsend, a Sacramento political consultant, said he used to have to work to convince business-oriented groups on the wisdom of getting behind Democrats. Now that tactic has become so ingrained that Townsend said he has “a waiting list” of interested players hoping to invest in moderate Democrats.
“Year in and year out the business community, the health care community, the insurance community can look at all the scorecards and see where mods have been on their issues and on trying to tamp down too much regulation,” Townsend said. “We don’t have to do the sell anymore. Everyone totally gets how important the mods are.”