Regardless of whether you're a supporter of the top-two primary system, you have to admit one thing: It's made primary elections more of a spectator sport. Case in point: The race for the 10th Assembly District, which includes all of Marin County and 44 percent of Sonoma County.
As you recall, San Rafael City Councilman Marc Levine, a moderate Democrat, rattled his party's political establishment two years ago when he knocked off Assemblyman Michael Allen despite being outspent nearly 6-1. Such a thing would never have happened in pre-top-two days.
Well, now it's payback time. If Levine hopes to win re-election, he will have to withstand a withering attack from within his own party. Levine should be the top vote-getter 16 days from now. But he is the only incumbent in state office who did not receive the endorsement of his own party.
Fortunately for him, his detractors within Marin and Sonoma County Democratic circles couldn't galvanize around a single candidate to oppose him. And now concern is high that the vote will be so divided among the four strong party candidates — including Santa Rosa City Councilwoman Erin Carlstrom, College of Marin Trustee Diana Conti and former Santa Rosa Councilwoman Veronica Jacobi — that Republican Greg Allen of Novato will slip in and finish in the coveted second-place spot.
As a result, the party has so tied itself in knots that Jacobi is now encouraging supporters to vote for Conti — although Jacobi says she is still running and wouldn't mind winning if she is elected.
There it is. Clear as mud.
But this is not an isolated story. A similar situation is brewing in the 4th Assembly District, which includes all of Napa County and part of Sonoma Valley and Rohnert Park. That race features three strong Democrats including Napa County Supervisor Bill Dodd, Davis Mayor Joe Krovoza, and Davis Councilman Dan Wolk — son of state Sen. Lois Wolk — and Charlie Schaupp, a Republican farmer and former school board member who is likely to lock up much of the conservative vote. Who will emerge in the top two is anybody's guess.
The top-two system is forcing some new thinking even on editorial boards. Traditionally, newspapers have endorsed one Democrat and one Republican in the primary. But the new system has forced many publications to make a change.
Some, such as the San Francisco Chronicle and the Contra Costa Times, are choosing to support a single candidate in the June 3 primary. Some, including the Sacramento Bee, are endorsing two where they deem it appropriate and a single person in other races. Still other newspapers, such as the Los Angeles Times, have a policy of not making endorsements in state legislative primaries.
All of these models have merit. But starting with the first top-two primary two years ago, the policy of The Press Democrat Editorial Board has been somewhere in the middle — recommending two candidates where the field is strong and endorsing just one where a favorite is clear. That has been our practice this year as well.
This is especially true in those races where, in our view, there is a strong Republican candidate who has a legitimate chance of attracting bipartisan support and making a good run in the fall.