The CD-10 race displays classic candidate campaign disparities in style, money, organization, appeal and strategies. Taken together they make an excellent case study for a Political Science major. Here are the salient criteria to check off as the September 1 Special Election approaches.
The key to every election is turnout and within that the turnout of a candidates’ core supporters. This is not as obvious as it sounds. In low turnouts those that tend to vote are the hard-core voters. These voters never miss an election, vote by mail, are older, and have their minds made up. For example, in California’s May Special Election on the statewide budget proposals there was an unholy alliance. Liberals, who saw the Sacramento proposals as a corrupt bargain joined with Conservatives who considered the proposals as a sell out to holy No-Tax mantras. These two groups combined to utterly doom the propositions with less than 25% of the electorate voting, thus giving massive clout to these two extremes.
Main street and younger voters were not a factor in May. In fact, the Special Election highlighted the lack of influence of party leaders where Democratic legislative leadership and the Republican Governor both urged support for the Props only to find out that rank and file overwhelmingly voted “No.”
For the DeSaulnier campaign and to a lesser extent the Buchanan campaign, where there is a wider hard-core commitment via grass roots and engagement with the local community, a low turnout means that their supporters are a higher percentage of the group.
The Garamendi campaign that has statewide name recognition as his trump card, sees his chances go up extremely as the electorate size increases through the inclusion of more mainstream voters who are not connected with respective local political networks. In locales outside of AD-15 (Buchanan) and Central Costa County (DeSaulnier) Garamendi polls well especially amongst Democrats who have probably voted for him three times in the past for Insurance Commissioner and Lt. Governor.
Early money, as in the case of the Garamendi campaign, has been applied to TV ads and a massive blitz of flyers on the week that the Vote by Mail ballots were received. Late money, as in the case of Buchanan’s loan to her campaign may not be as effective in the last 10 days of an election because, with vote by mail, a major portion of the electorate has already voted in a low turnout election.
The other issue with money is where it comes from and the cost of raising that money. The Garamendi and Woods campaigns have been successful in bringing money in from outside of the district. Does this really matter to anyone who is a likely voter? The Garamendi campaign appears to have the highest dollar donor ratio meaning that he is bringing in heavy hitters or elite donations compared to small amounts which is more the case with the other candidates. Again, does this really matter to the voters who will actually go in and vote who have not made up their minds from the beginning on the campaign?
LOCAL ELITES VS STATE WIDE ELITES
Another interesting facet of the campaign is the match up of elites. Clearly the DeSaulnier campaign has the most extensive list of local leadership endorsements from: City Councils, Democratic Clubs and delegates, Supervisors, and Contra Costa County officials, as well as from Tauscher herself as well as Rep George Miller. Likewise Joan Buchanan has local endorsements and support emanating from her base in the San Ramon area.
Countering both sets of local glitter, Garamendi’s endorsements pulled in the very definition of elite endorsements from Bill Clinton and Al Gore. This match again compliments the appeal and impact relative to turn out. The lower the turnout the less effective the elite endorsements, the higher the turnout the higher the impact of the biggest names of the endorsement game since when people are to be influenced by endorsements they tend to surrender their judgement to the greater status not the smaller.
However, when it comes to getting out a ground force to man phone banks and walk precincts to spread the word about a home grown candidate, it is the network that is closest to the voter that has an advantage. So once again we see the interplay of grassroots as a counter to big money, and the importance of voter turnout.
SPECIAL INTEREST GROUPS
There have been only a few high profile special interest groups active in the CD-10 Special Election. The Buchanan camp has touted Joan’s support from local teachers and Emily’s List, while the Woods camp enjoys support from the Gay Community that has helped fundraising from outside the District.
The DeSaulnier campaign has received the most vocal local union support and a recent labor rally in Antioch claimed 100+ volunteers to walk districts. The Garamendi campaign has sought to counter local union support with going to the union district and state leaders as well as gathering union support outside of Contra Costa. Indeed Garamendi enjoys the support of the Central Labor Councils in Sacramento, Alameda, and Solano, while DeSaulnier nailed down support of just Contra Costa. The question and the thing to watch is whether the unions can get their membership out to vote and if the working force is sufficient to have a sustaining effect.
As far as Special Interests go, Churches and Veterans groups have been quiet. The lack of mobilization around social issues reflects the lack of conflicting views from among the leading candidates making the race a straight party contest. The Vets have been rather quite considering that there is a Bronze Star candidate in Woods. However his Gay status and splitting with the military over Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, may have negated this appeal.
Finally, what will this race have as a lesson for the future of the political campaigns in the area? We have already seen that the youth vote has gone missing; and, with the rising influence of money, we may be back to politics as usual. With just a week to go, we may yet see the triumph of local engagement and energized groups.