California’s open primary system is providing openings for centrists. The New York Times has an article this morning about a Republican challenger to Tea Party favorite Tom McClintock in California’s 4th Congressional District. The challenger, Art Moore, is almost guaranteed a place on the fall ballot and a chance to put his credentials in front of a less furiously partisan audience.
The open primary system in California is effectively a single primary for all parties. The candidates with the two highest vote totals go on to compete against each other in the general election. So all the Democrats, Republicans and others are on the same primary ballot together. The general election functions more like a run-off.
This means that even in a district heavily leaning to one party or the other, voters in the minority party can have significant influence. This system has only been in operation since the 2012 primaries, but it is already credited with helping the state moderate its Democratic politics. Some even credit it as a factor in the budget deal that put California back in the black.
Combining open primaries with redistricting by non-partisan commissions, as California has done, may be the prescription for a more reasonable campaign environment. If it can tame the radical politics of the left coast, producing sensible budgets and compromise in one of the country’s most wacky political climates, then maybe it deserves a close look elsewhere.