- The Washington Times - Monday, June 4, 2012

California voters can head to the movies Tuesday to watch “Snow White and the Huntsman,” or turn up at the ballot box to see something not much different: “Dianne Feinstein and the 23 Dwarfs.”

A voter-approved overhaul of California’s election procedures has resulted in a whopping 24 candidates vying for Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s seat in Tuesday’s primary election — including the incumbent herself.

Under the new rules, approved as part of the 2010 initiative Proposition 14, the top two vote-getters will secure spots on the November ballot, regardless of their party affiliation.

That ruling helped produce 23 primary challengers — none of whom polled above 2 percent in a recent SurveyUSA poll — for the three-term Democratic incumbent. Mrs. Feinstein was favored by 51 percent of those surveyed.

The challengers include 14 Republicans, five Democrats, one Libertarian, one American Independent, and two Peace and Freedom Party candidates. That’s because getting on the ballot isn’t as tough as it used to be: Instead of being nominated by a party, candidates may qualify for the Senate ballot by submitting 10,000 signatures or paying $3,480.

To make things even more confusing, Tuesday represents the first time candidates have run in the state’s newly drawn congressional and legislative districts.

“Nobody really knows what’s going to happen. It’s a course we’ve never taken before in California,” said Los Angeles political analyst Allan Hoffenblum.

The California Republican Party has endorsed Elizabeth Emken, 49, a former business executive and advocate for children with autism. The party is promoting her on its campaign mailings, but given that Republican registration in California stands at an all-time low of 30 percent, that seal of approval may not mean much.

For Mrs. Feinstein, the goal is to capture at least 50 percent of the vote against a decidedly weaker field. No prominent Republican is running against the Mrs. Feinstein, 78, the former San Francisco mayor who’s a virtual institution in California politics.

“The main thing that’s going to be interesting to see is how Emken does and whether the party’s endorsement helps her,” said Mr. Hoffenblum. “Feinstein will be in double digits and everyone else will be in single digits or maybe you’ll have one candidate in the teens, but I think she’ll be embarrassed if she doesn’t get 50 percent.”

The most uncomfortable scenario for Republicans would be if candidate Orly Taitz emerged as the No. 2 vote-getter. Mrs. Taitz, 51, has better name recognition than most others as a national leader of the so-called “birther” movement, and some robocall polls show her finishing second to Mrs. Feinstein.

A lawyer and a dentist, Mrs. Taitz has filed numerous lawsuits challenging President Obama’s eligibility to run for president on state ballots, contending that he was not born in the United States.

The president, responding to persistent questions from billionaire Donald Trump, in April 2011 released an online copy of his long-form birth certificate issued by the state of Hawaii.

Many “birthers” contend the document may be a forgery.

“If Orly Taitz is No. 2, it’s going to become a national issue because every candidate is going to be under pressure to repudiate her,” said Mike Spence, president of Conservative Republicans of California. “It’s going to be like David Duke was for the Democrats [in the 1988 presidential primary].”

Despite the proliferation of candidates under the new rules, analysts predict low voter turnout, citing the lack of suspense in the presidential primaries. Both the Democrat Obama and Republican Mitt Romney are expected to coast to victory in their party primaries.

More action is expected in the congressional and legislative primaries, where the new election rules could result in dozens of races in which the top two candidates belong to the same party. Mr. Hoffenblum predicts that as many as 34 contests could result in intraparty rivalries in November.

Eight of those are congressional races. For instance, in the 30th Congressional District in the San Fernando Valley, Democratic Reps. Howard L. Berman and Brad Sherman are expected to capture the top two slots after being drawn into the same district.

In the 15th District, longtime Democratic Rep. Fortney Pete Stark could be in trouble after drawing several Democratic challengers. Mr. Stark, considered one of the most liberal members of Congress, could find himself up against a more moderate Democrat who would attract support from Republican and centrist voters.

“If he’s running against a Democrat, Stark can’t go out and yell that ‘Republicans are going to take away your Social Security,’” said Mr. Hoffenblum. “The winner is going to be the one to get crossover votes. The whole concern is that you can’t get elected by your party base alone, and I think the result is that you’re going to see some incumbents in trouble.”

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