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Jon Fleischman

WSJ’s Finley: Special Election Surprise in California

From today’s Wall Street Journal Political Diary E-mail…

Special Election Surprise in California

Last year California voters approved an “open primary” in which all candidates compete on the same primary ballot and the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, head to a run off. It’s often presumed that open primaries advantage party moderates since candidates must appeal to a broader swath of voters to win both the primary and general elections. South Bay voters put that hypothesis to the test on Tuesday in the special election primary to replace retiring Democratic congresswoman Jane Harman.

According to the latest vote tally, which doesn’t take into account some 9,800 absentee and provisional ballots, Democrat Janice Hahn has won the primary by about 2,000 votes. Her victory isn’t a big surprise — Ms. Hahn is a longtime Los Angeles city council member and had the backing of most of California’s Democratic establishment, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

But what is a surprise is Republican businessman Craig Huey’s reported second-place finish. Democrat Debra Bowen, the secretary of state and a favorite of the greens, trails him by 207 votes. If Mr. Huey’s lead holds, it would be a major upset for Democrats.

Most people figured that Ms. Hahn and Ms. Bowen would move to the July run-off. “None of the media thought it would be Hahn and Huey, but that’s what it’s looking like,” Mr. Huey’s campaign manager Jimmy Camp told the Rancho Palos Verdes Patch. “Volunteers and precinct walkers, that’s about what it really gets down to. We had a lot of volunteers turning out the vote for Craig Huey.”

Democrats have an 18-point voter registration advantage over Republicans in the district, but Democratic candidates have so far received just 13% more votes. While conservatives typically turn out in greater numbers than liberals, Republican turnout was expected to be low since Democrats are strongly favored to win the July election. Mr. Huey’s good showing bodes well for California’s GOP, which has been suffering from low morale after recent Senate and gubernatorial defeats.

It also suggests that principled conservatives aren’t necessarily at a disadvantage in open primaries. Mr. Huey was endorsed by conservative congressmen like Mike Pence of Indiana and Tom McClintock of California. He also took the Americans for Tax Reform “no tax” pledge and campaigned vociferously against ObamaCare. The final tally won’t be announced until Friday, but Mr. Huey’s already beaten the spread.

— Allysia Finley