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California Democrats weigh endorsements to blunt 'top-two' primary system

April 29, 2011 |  4:21 pm

California Democrats are moving toward enacting a plan that allows small groups of party insiders to decide which candidates get party endorsements, an attempt to do an end-run around the spirit of the "top-two primary" system adopted by voters.

Under the proposal, which was made during a key committee meeting on Friday at the party’s convention, local party activists would endorse legislative and congressional candidates in a caucus-type system.

A liberal faction objected to a provision that would allow candidates who do not identify themselves as Democrats on the ballot to receive the official party nod.

“If a candidate can’t … say I am a Democrat, such a candidate is clearly waffling,” said Stan Hope, a member of the Sonoma County Democratic Central Committee.

Peter Chiu, a rules committee member from Palo Alto, asked whether the party would decline to back a candidate who was a solid Democrat but didn’t want to label himself for strategic purposes.

Donna Norton, also from Sonoma County, replied that such a prospect was troubling.

“I have a problem with saying there is a good Democrat out there that won’t identify himself or herself as a Democrat,” she said. “If we don’t start asking for these things, we are losing our identity and I think that’s real hard to try to go back and correct that later on.”

The endorsement proposal is an attempt to blunt the effects of Proposition 14, which changed the system to allow candidates from all parties to compete in a primary, after which the top two vote- getters compete in a general election — even if the two candidates are from the same party. The ballot measure, approved last year, was intended to create competition and loosen the grip that the state's most partisan voters have on primary elections. Under the measure, a candidate can choose whether to list party affiliation on the ballot.

Democrats plan to hold additional hearings about the matter over the summer.

The issue caused an angry brawl at the Republican convention last month, with the GOP ultimately deciding to conduct a mail-in nominating process with all registered Republican voters before the primary election. It remains unclear how the party will be able to pay for such an undertaking.

-- Seema Mehta in Sacramento

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