The San Diego Union-Tribune has this story about the June 2012 primary race in California’s 51st U.S. House district. The two candidates who had been thought to be strongest were current Democratic State Senator Juan Vargas, and the area’s former State Senator, Denise Moreno Ducheny. The 51st district is strongly Democratic. Under California’s top-two open primary rules, it had been assumed they would place first and second in the June primary and compete against each other in November.
The primary race had three Republicans and four Democrats running. Senator Vargas spent between $40,000 and $50,000 to promote one of the Republican candidates, Michael Crimmins. Crimmins himself did not have a very active campaign, and only raised $5,000. He had been expelled from the Republican County Central Committee in 2010 by a vote of 44-1. The basis for his expulsion was partly that he had made allegedly racist comments about one of his primary opponents in his 2010 congressional race, and also that he had allegedly filed baseless ethics charges against the Republican Party’s state chairman. In the 2012 race, the Republican Party had endorsed Xanthi Gionis. Crimmins’ 2012 campaign web page said he was endorsed by Tom Tancredo, Darrell Issa, Duncan Hunter, Ron Packard, and Ed Royce (all current or former Republican congressmen), as well as Arizona’s Sheriff Joe Arpaio, but those politicians had not endorsed him for his 2012 race, but for his earlier unsuccessful runs for Congress in a different district.
Senator Vargas’ strategy of boosting Crimmins worked. Crimmins came in second, so Ducheny is now defeated. The same trick was used in Washington state in 2010, in the State Senate 38th district race. In that race, there were two Democrats and one Republican running. The district was heavily Democratic. However, one of the Democratic candidates, Nick Harper, made large independent expenditures to boost the Republican. The expenditures were not reported until after the primary was over. As a result, the Republican placed second, and the other Democrat, incumbent Jean Berkey, placed third and was unable to run in November. After the election was over, some Democratic State Senators felt that Harper’s action had been so unethical, they tried to oust Harper from the Senate, but that motion was defeated. Thanks to Rick Hasen for the link about the San Diego race.