Dan Walters

Opinion: Old tactics don’t work in new era

Gov. Jerry Brown, left, on May 28, 2015 delivers the oath of office to his former campaign strategist, Steven Glazer, an Orinda Democrat who won a special election for state Senate.Holding the Torah is Glazer’s wife, Melba Muscarolas.
Gov. Jerry Brown, left, on May 28, 2015 delivers the oath of office to his former campaign strategist, Steven Glazer, an Orinda Democrat who won a special election for state Senate.Holding the Torah is Glazer’s wife, Melba Muscarolas. California State Senate

Steve Glazer, who took his seat in the state Senate on Thursday, is the $10 million man of California politics.

That’s about what he, his opponents, special interest groups and wealthy individuals spent on two special elections to fill the 7th Senate District seat that Mark DeSaulnier vacated upon being elected to Congress last November.

But misspent may be more accurate, considering what actually happened in the March 17 primary and the May 19 runoff. Ultimately, the tsunami of political propaganda prior to the second balloting had little, if any, impact on the outcome.

Glazer won a third of the 113,857 votes in the March 17 primary. His four rivals shared the remainder with the closest, Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, receiving a quarter.

Glazer, a Democrat who stressed his independence, especially from unions, was backed by business groups in the May 19 runoff, against Bonilla, who received heavy union support.

Turnout rose only slightly for the runoff, so one can assume those who cast ballots in the two elections were essentially the same folks, roughly a quarter of the district’s registered voters.

The results indicate that Glazer retained the 38,411 who voted for him in March, and added the 18,821 who had voted for the only Republican and a healthy chunk from the other two losing Democrats.

Bonilla, meanwhile, retained her base of 28,389 votes from March and picked up most of the votes that had been cast for the other Democrats.

The net result was a 9.2 percentage point win for Glazer, slightly greater than his margin over Bonilla in March.

The high-dollar East Bay shootout tells us that the dynamics of runoff elections between politicians from the same party, coupled with the increasingly high level of mail voting, have made political-tactics-as-usual obsolete.

The vast majority of the 7th SD’s voters in Contra Costa and Alameda counties, well over 80 percent, cast their ballots by mail. With so many voting long before election day – not only in this election but everywhere – filling voters’ postal boxes with pejorative propaganda and interrupting their dinners with robocalls just don’t work like they once did.

Meanwhile, the state’s new primary election system, in which the top two vote-getters face each other in a runoff regardless of party, means that in many ostensibly Democratic districts, such as the 7th SD, Republican voters – and independents – can be decisive in Democrat-vs.-Democrat duels.

Glazer and his supporters understood that the district’s Republicans tended to be moderates, and made appeals to them a substantial part of their strategy. It was a textbook example of how California business groups capitalize on the top-two system.

Bonilla’s camp – particularly unions – pitched its pricey appeals almost entirely to Democratic voters, trying to portray Glazer as a closet right-winger, and paid the very high price of defeat.

Dan Walters: (916) 321-1195, dwalters@sacbee.com, @WaltersBee

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