After 15 years, a breathing space in statewide elections

California is experiencing what once was a familiar hiatus between elections – a traditional 20-month span between the November general election and the next primary election in June of the following even-numbered year.

The last statewide election was November 2010 and the next primary is June 2012. The last time there was such a gap was from November 1996 to June 1998.

But it’s not a period of tranquility – redistricting has seen to that. For termed-out lawmakers the options are difficult, but incumbents aren’t having an easy ride either.

And it hasn’t been easy on consultants — especially Republican consultants – who rely on political campaigns to pay their bills, noted one strategist.

“I think this is an unprecedented time for a lot of consultants, especially Republican consultants,” said Tim Clark of Sacramento-based Premier Strategies, a campaign strategy firm whose clientele include GOP candidates. “It is a difficult time. We’ve gone through something of a metamorphosis because of Whitman spending $174 million and still not winning. That impacted a lot of donors in California, making it more difficult to raise money,” said Clark in a telephone interview from Guatemala.

Clark was in Guatemala with former California Republican Party Chair Ron Nehring to handle the Nov. 6 campaign for a presidential candidate.

I’ve talked to a lot of guys – consultants, designers, website guys – and everybody is hurting. They all talk frequently about what is next and that it’s been tough on everybody.”

The decennial redrawing of political districts in California – this time handled by an independent, voter-approved commission – has turned the election map into musical chairs in the Legislature and in Congress, pitting incumbents against each other and forcing others to move to new districts.

“How do you run for Senate or Assembly if you don’t know yet who’s running for Congress? How do you look at other seats until you know where the Congressional seats are?” said political strategist Matt Ross, a former staffer for the Senate GOP caucus.

“The big question is what they will be doing during the 20 months,” he said. “With the redistricting and the top-two primary, it’s going to change how you fight, it’s a different dynamic. I’ve never seen an election like this.”

Among the general public, the current breathing spell may be welcome.

The 1998-2000 break was broken after 17 months by a March 2000 primary, as did the 2000-02 period which saw a  March 2002 primary.

What would have been another 17-month stretch, from November 2002 until March 2004, was interrupted by the October 2003 recall election that drove Gray Davis from office and led to the election of actor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Next up, breaking the expected 20-month stretch between November 2004 and June 2006 was a special statewide election in November 2005. And between November 2006 and June 2008 was the February 2008 presidential primary election.

Another 20-month stretch loomed, but it was not to be: Between November 2008 and June 2010, there was yet another statewide special election in May 2009.

Now, there is no statewide election scheduled until June, when the top-two primary will fully kick in, in which the top vote-getters of June will face each other in the general election six months later.

Not everybody thinks the current election cycle represents a dry spell for consultants.

“The 2012 elections could be a SuperLotto for consultants,” said Democratic strategist Steve Maviglio. “Typically that (such a long hiatus) could be a really bad. But this year, because of redistricting and the top-two primary, people will be jumping in.”

“During the Schwarzenegger years, everybody got used to an election a day,” he added.

Ed’s Note: CORRECTS last name to Clark in 4th-5th grafs.<

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