47th District Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez at the Election Night celebration in Santa Ana's Plaza of the Artists. (Photo by: Kenny Rivera)
Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez at the Election Night celebration in Santa Ana’s Plaza of the Artists. (Photo by: Kenny Rivera)

The answer is, “Proposition 14.”

As more and more candidates line up to run for the 46 Congressional District (covering almost half of Little Saigon) replacing the incumbent Loretta Sánchez as she runs for the U.S. Senate, a question often comes up: Wouldn’t all the jostling be for naught if Rep. Sanchez changes her mind and just goes for a safe re-election? After all, California Attorney General Kamala Harris has pretty much locked up Democratic support, no?

This question has popped up often. But the answer is, not really. The idea that there’s no way Sanchez can beat Harris in the Democratic primary is faulty. Not because Sanchez has more Dem votes than Harris; she probably doesn’t. But because of the way California primary election works.

You may have forgotten this, because watching the Republican presidential candidates may have conditioned you (me too!) into thinking all primary elections are partisan.

Not so in California this year. In 2010, voters passed Prop. 14. As a result, starting in 2012, our primary elections are top-two, non-partisan. All candidates from all parties run against one another, and the top two go into the primary.

That’s why headlines like the San Francisco Chronicle’s “Loretta Sanchez to challenge Kamala Harris in Senate primary” is misleading. Sanchez does not have to beat Harris in the primary. She only has to beat all other candidates in the primary and end at number two.

So far, that looks pretty likely. There are no other serious Democratic candidates, and the Republican candidates have no chance either.

If Harris and Sanchez end up as the top two, the two Democrats would face each other in the general election.

At that time, Sanchez would hope to collect enough Republican votes to overcome Harris’s advantage in Democratic votes. After all, Sanchez may be liberal by most everybody else’s standard, but in this top-two scenario, she’s the Republicans’ least bad choice.

For example, the American Conservative Union gives Sanchez a low Lifetime rating of 9%.  But that is still higher than her sister Linda Sanchez‘s at 4%, Nancy Pelosi‘s at 3%, and the U.S. Senator she’s hoping to replace, Barbara Boxer‘s at 3%. In fact, of the 38 Democratic members of the House from California, Sanchez ranks as the 8th least liberal. (The ACU only rank legislators, so Harris does not get a ranking.)

That’s why having OC Republican and former Assemblyman Chris Norby say that there’s no better “alternative for a fiscal conservative in the 2016 Senate race” is a big deal.

That’s also why this is a chance of a lifetime for Sanchez. It’s a combination of an open seat, a top-two primary, a Democrat more liberal than her, and a non-existent Republican field. An opportunity like this will probably never come again.

And that’s why all those other candidates trying to replace Sanchez really should not have to worry about her walking back from her Senate dreams.

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