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Conservative groups look to June ballot for initiatives

Politics, by definition, is an imperfect science. Some of the best-laid plans can easily be derailed by unintended consequences and unforeseen events. In the constant effort to try to extract any advantage possible out of an election, many consultants target specific ballots based on what they assume the voting universe will look like.

Suffice to say, those predictions don’t always work out.

Three initiatives, which proponents expect will have strong support from more conservative voters, have set their sites on the June 2008 ballot. Now that the presidential primary has been moved up to February, many political experts assume the June primary election will have a lower, and therefore more conservative, voter base.

But two of those initiatives do not look as if they will make the June ballot, and another faces a rival initiative on the same ballot that could affect its chances.

Peter Henderson, who is leading the charge to amend the state constitution to ban gay marriage, says he and his supporters were hoping to qualify for the June ballot. “We’re no longer on track for June,” he said. “We simply have not been able to raise the money to get the signatures in time, so we’re looking toward November.”

Initiatives have 180 days from the time they receive title and summary from the attorney general’s office to gather signatures. In order to qualify for the June ballot, measures must be certified by the secretary of state no later than January 24, according to the secretary of state’s office.

Petitions submitted after that date would push the measure to the next ballot, in November.

Henderson says the political calculus for his group will change dramatically because they will miss the June ballot. “It certainly does change the political equation. Republicans have shied away from California in presidential years, and that could depress Republican turnout.”

Henderson says his group’s measure polls well among Democrats and Republicans, however, and is confident that a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage on the November ballot would still be approved by voters.

“As far as the political calculation, there’s no question we aimed for June. Unfortunately, we missed our targets, but we’re confident voters will understand [our measure] and vote for it.”

But does it really matter? Steve Merksamer is a veteran of dozens of California initiative campaigns. He dismisses ballot targeting as “hocus pocus” that has far less impact on the outcome of an initiative campaign than many political consultants or political reporters think.

“I think that’s all just very na


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