Sunday, May 22, 2011

Why the recall wasn't a circus

The 2003 California gubernatorial recall was supposed to be a circus. You only needed $3,000 and a few dozen signatures to be on the replacement ballot, and the parties had no primaries to cull the number of candidates. Soon the ballot contained 135 candidates, including Gary Coleman, Gallagher, Mary Carey, Larry Flynt, and a certain Austrian bodybuilder-turned-actor. Journalists and politicians issued all sorts of warnings about the dangers of this recall, suggesting that the replacement governor could take office with as little as 10 percent of the vote. In fact, three candidates split 94 percent of the vote, and the plurality winner came within a point of a clear majority. The election results looked surprisingly normal and un-circus-like.

How did this happen? In an article that's out in the new State Politics and Policy Quarterly, I argue that the parties imposed order on what would otherwise have been a chaotic environment. The article focuses specifically on the Republicans, noting how party leaders rallied around Schwarzenegger (whom they'd been grooming for office for a few years) and pressured other candidates to step out of the race through a combination of conversations, endorsements, and donations.