Rep. Scott Peters (D-CA-52) could perform an odd trick over the next few months: lose his primary but win the general election. How? California’s all-party primary offers a tempting opportunity to compare candidates ahead of the general election, but the Golden State has a track record of spitting out very different results in June and November.
— In 2012, nearly every Democratic House candidate matched against a Republican in California improved on their party’s primary vote share in the general election. (See the results in graphical form here.) That includes 8 districts, like Rep. Mark Takano‘s (D), where Democrats got less than half of the primary vote but went on to win the general. Takano got 59% in CA-41 after he and another Democrat combined for just 46% in the primary — leading some forecasters in DC and California to downgrade Takano’s chances after he won the nomination.
— The 2012 results confirm the trend from California’s previous two all-party primaries, in 1998 and 2000. In those years, Democrats improved their standing in 66 House races between primary and general, while Republicans only did it 17 times — mostly by marginal amounts in seats that were safely Democratic.
— Young people and especially Latinos are far less likely to turn out in California’s primaries, pushing the results away from what they look like with a full electorate in the fall. It’s the same effect that hurts Democratic performance in midterms versus presidential elections.
That’s not to say California Dems like Peters shouldn’t be worried about November; he and others will have tough races. But no one should use Tuesday’s primary results to write them off. Even though they match up potential opponents early on, all-party primaries are not as useful for comparing candidates as they seem.
— Scott Bland