The Fly in Union's Plan to Reach Republicans

The Service Employees International Union, one of the country's leading backers of the Democratic party, this week announced with great fanfare that it's starting a political committee to appeal to Republicans in next year's California legislative elections.

In particular, SEIU wants to support moderate Republicans in heavily Republican areas of inland California that tend to election conservatives who refuse to compromise on tax and spending issues.

At first blush, the idea makes sense.

SEIU is a Democratic union but with thousands of Republican members.

And the union, which represents state workers among others, has been hurt by the inability of the legislature to reach compromise.

Plus, the new top-two primary system -- under which candidates of all parties run in the primary, with the top two vote getters, regardless of party, advancing to the general election -- seems to offer an opportunity.

The problem is that the same opportunity SEIU seeks to exploit is open to Republicans.

Here's how this would work. In very Republican districts, SEIU won't support Democratic candidates, who don't have a chance of winning the seat.

In fact, the union likely will try to discourage Democrats from running in that district. Instead, the union will back a moderate Republican -- and ask Democratic voters to do the same -- in hopes that the moderate can advance to the general election and defeat whatever conservative Republican candidate emerges in a Republican district.

Its not hard to see how Republicans will respond to such tactics.

If the union can keep Democrats out, you could see the GOP work to put up its own Democratic candidate to draw Democratic votes. This is likely to work to stop the SEIU strategy, for two reasons.

For one, while California's districts tend to lean one way or the other in partisan battles, they are rarely so partisan as to produce two candidates of the same party.

The natural outcome of a top two primary, even in a Republican district, is to have one Democrat and one Republican as vote getters. (One should note that the reverse has proven true in the handful of elections in which top two has been used. In the recent 36th Congressional district race in a heavily Democratic area of Southern California, a Republican managed to advance to the general election along with one Democrat).

The second problem with the SEIU strategy; voters don't pay much attention to legislative elections. They rarely know the first thing about the people running.

They tend to vote for the party. So it would take an expensive and Herculean effort to convince enough Democrats not to vote for a Democratic candidate in an election.

SEIU's attempt to game the legislative election system is understandable. But it's almost certainly a waste of time and money.

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