In his ballot statement for the June primary, GOP Assembly candidate Brian Dahle touted his "Ronald Reagan conservative principles" and the need for limited government.
The message helped Dahle top the field in a lopsidedly Republican district. In past years that essentially would have ended the race, but it's different now that California's top-two primary system is in place.
Dahle has a member of his own party for an opponent in the Nov. 6 general election after he and Rick Bosetti split the GOP vote in the 1st District, which stretches from Modoc to Placer counties. That means Democrats, while vastly outnumbered, won't only cast key votes. They could decide the winner.
Gone from Dahle's November ballot statement is mention of his conservatism. He stresses now that he is supported by 24 county supervisors, which are nonpartisan posts, and says that "I know how difficult it is for businesses and families to survive."
Under the top-two system, approved by voters in 2010, the names of all legislative and congressional candidates appear on each ballot in the primary. The top two finishers square off in November, regardless of party.
Twenty-eight races next month feature two candidates from the same party: 19 Democratic contests, nine Republican. Minor parties are almost completely shut out, surviving in only three races.
The key Sacramento-area contest featuring same-party candidates pits Republican Assemblywoman Beth Gaines against Andy Pugno in the 6th Assembly District, based in Placer County.
Whether the new system leads to a more moderate Legislature or congressional delegation remains to be seen, analysts say, but it clearly is sparking efforts to reach across the aisle for political gain or mischief.
Democratic state Sen. Juan Vargas helped elect his own congressional opponent for next month's ballot, Republican Michael Crimmins. To avoid the possibility of a same-party runoff with former state Sen. Denise Ducheny in a hugely Democratic district, Vargas, of San Diego, spent about $50,000 to boost Crimmins in the primary.
"Top two is rife with opportunities for this kind of strategy," said Larry Remer, Vargas' campaign strategist.
Candidates in same-party races increasingly vow to work with people of all political stripes in promoting job creation, education, public safety or other issues that cross party lines.
Longtime Democratic incumbents Howard Berman and Brad Sherman, for example, are jockeying for GOP and independent endorsements in a Los Angeles congressional race in which about 50 percent of voters are not members of their party.
The battle has Berman touting support from U.S. Republican Sen. John McCain and independent Sen. Joe Lieberman. Sherman counters with Assemblyman Cameron Smyth, R-Santa Clarita, and GOP Councilman Mitch Englander of Los Angeles.
A San Bernardino County congressional race has two Republicans, state Sen. Bob Dutton and U.S. Rep. Gary Miller, butting heads in a district where Democrats outnumber the GOP. Dutton was quick to promote his teaming with Sacramento Democrat Darrell Steinberg, state Senate leader, to pass a new law designed to curb lawsuits over minor violations of disability access law.
Other campaign oddities abound. The California Chamber of Commerce held a fundraiser for Democrat Marc Levine against Democrat Michael Allen for a Northern California Assembly seat. The state Democratic and Republican parties have opted in some races to endorse one of two finalists from their own party in Nov. 6 balloting.
More than a dozen GOP candidates in contested legislative or congressional races have balked at signing a no-new-taxes pledge that has been the party's holy grail in years past but could taint appeals to Democrats.
Abel Maldonado, a congressional candidate who as a GOP state senator was instrumental in placing the top-two primary on the 2010 ballot, said he laughs at how many lawmakers who tilted strongly left or right in years past now paint themselves differently.
"All of a sudden, everybody is independent, everybody is bipartisan," said Maldonado, a Santa Maria Republican.
Republican Rico Oller scoffs at that notion. "If you'll give up what you believe in to win an election, you're exactly the wrong kind of person to have in politics," said Oller, a former legislator seeking to return to the Assembly. He faces fellow Republican Frank Bigelow, a Madera County supervisor who declined to sign the tax pledge.
Once politicking is over and votes are counted, the system is not likely to ease partisan gridlock or alter state governance immediately, some analysts say.
Of 28 same-party contests next month, just 12 appear to be truly contested, according to a study by Public Policy Institute of California.
Eight other races feature a candidate who received more than 50 percent of ballots cast in June, and the remaining eight feature a candidate who has raised more than twice as much money as his or her rival, PPIC found.
Turnout in June was a record low for a California presidential primary, 31 percent. Like past primaries, voters were ideologically polarized Democrats tended to favor the most liberal candidates, Republicans the most conservative, said Rob Stutzman, a GOP strategist.
A key to significant change may be how many same-party races end with the more moderate candidate, if there is one, winning the seat, Stutzman said.
"It's really hard to forecast how this is going to work," he said.
Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, a Los Angeles Democrat, does not expect much change. Not one all-GOP Assembly race offers a "major ideological difference between the two Republican candidates," he said.
Both Dahle and Bosetti, for example, have signed the no-new-taxes pledge.
In Placer County, Pugno and Gaines are fighting over the conservative base, not over Democrats. Pugno, the more conservative of the two, has appealed to the right to fund his campaign as a way to prevent Gaines from winning election.
Dave Gilliard, Gaines' strategist, said he suspects the key impact of same-party contests will be to discourage Democrats from voting in all-GOP races and vice versa.
"What this does is suppress the vote and makes democracy much less effective," Gilliard said. "So I think it's a very bad law."
Dan Schnur, of the Jesse Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California, said that the system should not necessarily be measured by numbers or ideology, but by its impact on political access and representation.
"If candidates become accustomed to talking to people from both parties during their campaign, maybe that's a habit that carries over once they get to Washington or Sacramento," Schnur said.