One of the sneakier campaign tricks employed by politicians is helping a weaker opponent draw votes away from a stronger rival.
A classic example occurred in 1984, when Republican state Sen. John Doolittle’s campaign funneled money to a Democratic opponent in hopes of weakening a third candidate, Republican-turned-independent Ray Johnson, also a state senator.
Doolittle won the election, even though he was later fined by the Fair Political Practices Commission for the trick.
Something similar to that occurred in 2002 when then-Gov. Gray Davis was facing a tough re-election battle. Democrat Davis wanted to face Bill Simon, a conservative Republican, so Davis’ campaign spent a lot of money attacking Richard Riordan, the moderate former mayor of Los Angeles, prior to the June primary.
The idea clearly was to undercut Riordan and make it more likely that Simon would face Davis.
The ploy worked. Simon won the primary and Davis then defeated him very narrowly in the November runoff. Had Davis faced Riordan, chances are high he would have been denied re-election. A year later, voters recalled Davis.
The same tactic is now being seen in the 7th Senate District, site of a special election next week.
The major contenders in the Contra Costa County-centered district are three Democrats: former Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla and Steve Glazer, an Orinda councilman and veteran campaign manager, most notably of Jerry Brown’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign.
But there’s also a Republican, Michaela Hertle, who withdrew and endorsed Glazer too late to have her name removed from the ballot. That gave unions, who mostly favor Bonilla, an opening to spend money through an entity called the Asian Small Business PAC, seeking votes for Hertle.
The goal, obviously, is to gain enough Republican votes for Hertle to keep Glazer, who has been highly critical of unions, off the May runoff election ballot.
Last week, the state Republican Party sued the Asian Small Business PAC, claiming it is illegally using the Republican Party’s elephant symbol in its mail.
“It’s egregious on the part of a Democratic political action committee to intentionally deceive Californians with its use of well-known Republican images,” Jim Brulte, the state Republican chairman, said in a statement.
Yes it is, but as noted earlier, it’s certainly not the first time it’s happened, nor is it likely to be the last.
The tactic is based on a theory that a substantial number of voters aren’t really paying attention and can be fooled into voting a certain way. But, one wonders, will it work in the 7th district, where the voters are mostly upper-middle class suburbanites?
It’s getting heavy media attention in the district and could backfire on Bonilla.
Call The Bee’s Dan Walters, (916) 321-1195. Back columns, sacbee.com/dan-walters. Follow him on Twitter @WaltersBee.