California Top-2 Primary System May Doom 26th Congressional District Democrats

Linda Parks, the independent candidate in California's 26th Congressional District, has given Democrats, both locally and nationally, serious heartburn ahead of Tuesday's primary.

While she doesn't have as much money as her leading Democrat opponent, Julia Brownley, and funds are often the best predictor of success in primary races, Parks has successfully positioned herself as the independent in a moderate district (the four Democratic candidates have split voters on the left). That gives her a good chance to win on Tuesday.

Under California's new election laws, the top two finishers in the primary move on to the general election regardless of party. State Sen. Tony Strickland has consolidated support on the right, and his fundraising prowess and position as sole Republican make him all but certain to nab a spot in the general election. Should Parks secure the second position, she would strip Democrats of the chance to pick up a congressional seat in a district that in 2008 gave Barack Obama 55 percent of its vote.

“Not being hyperpartisan and not being supported by the party can be a good thing because right now I think people are sick and tired of the party system,” Parks told the New York Times. She has not disclosed what party she would caucus with if she makes it to Congress. Progressives point out she was registered as a Republican before switching her registration to independent shortly before the election.

Democratic groups have been working hard to make sure Parks doesn't displace Brownley. House Majority PAC, a Democratic super-PAC backed by Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the House minority leader, spent more than $700,000 on television ads and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has pushed mailers linking Parks to Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh.

Meanwhile the Los Angeles Times endorsed Parks, arguing she reflects Ventura County's brand of open space-preserving environmentalism, while bringing a traditionally conservative hand to spending policy.

"Nobody quite knows what to expect from Parks and California's 26th District," National Journal's Scott Bland explained in a recent post. "The state's open, blanket primary has upset many conventional expectations about running a House race in the state, and Parks is the most significant symbol of the chaos the system could cause."

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