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Strategist: Easy primaries equal wins

Pundit says candidates untested early find it easier to shift center

Posted: June 22, 2011 1:30 a.m.
Updated: June 22, 2011 1:30 a.m.

Political candidates who don’t face primary opposition are much more likely to win election than those who do, a longtime strategist said Tuesday, because they’re able to move toward the center of the political spectrum.

Addressing a luncheon of Valley Industry Association members Tuesday, Dan Schnur said the single greatest indicator of failure in an election campaign is a primary challenge.

“Every president who has faced one has lost the election,” said the director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California. “And every one who has avoided a primary challenge has won it.”

The strategist said President Obama mistook his mandate when he was elected in 2008. It was simply: “Don’t be George Bush,” he said.

But Obama interpreted the mandate in his own way when he pushed through health care reform.
National campaign

With voters upset about the economy and war in Iraq, former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said it would have been easier for the administration to have started with energy as its initiative, according to Schnur. It would have been easier to explain energy as a program that would address the economic needs of citizens.

Just as President Clinton overreached in 1994, and President Reagan in 1982, Obama’s recent actions reflect a shift in direction, he said.

By making a midterm correction in his administration’s policies to reflect more of a middle-ground position on issues such as supporting tax cuts and withdrawing troops, he’s moving to the center, Schnur said.

Moving to the center gives him a stronger chance of being re-elected.

California election
The 2010 gubernatorial election was the most nonideological campaign in California’s recent election, Schnur said.

Candidates Brown and Whitman didn’t talk about the issues, but instead, both campaigned on their biographical histories, telling voters they should be elected based on their career histories.

In the end, voters elected Brown as governor with little idea of what exactly he would do if elected.

“After being elected, Gov. Brown pushed the California Legislature harder than they had been pushed in 20 years,” Schnur said.

And he has to be given credit for vetoing the just-passed budget and for calling it what it was — a dishonest effort, he said.

But Brown understands the importance of swing voters, Schnur said. To pass a viable budget he needs four Republican votes.

The Republicans want a spending cap and pension reform included in any budget, in exchange for putting an extension of tax increases set to expire this year being put on the ballot.

“Watch Brown now as he works with Democrats and organized labor and bargains on Republican-backed points and issues,” Schnur said.


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