Update: I have two additions, both from Jon Fleischman. First, Duf Sundheim denies in writing that he supports John McCain. Usually conservatives have trouble that anyone supports McCain. It is amusing that they insist on it here. Second, Fleischman, in his second post, gets a firm denial from the McCain campaign that they are pushing this. Ultimately, assuming that Fleischman is acting in good faith, this is merely the Romney guys pushing a story about McCain and conservatives swallowing it because they don’t like McCain. But what is really going on is just CA internal politics.
This morning, The Washington Times’ Ralph Hallow wrote about an effort, allegedly by John McCain, to open up the primary. I have some links to California, and I spent some time trying to sort this out.
One of Ralph’s two sources (the other was an unnamed Romney staffer), Jon Fleischman picked up on this story (in typical "plant a story, spread a story" mode, I suspect. Nothing wrong with that, I admire a professional). Jon had been thinking about this for a while, as he had written on it the week before. Jon is also the Southern Vice-Chair of the California GOP.
It is important to recognize that things in California politics are always more complicated than they seem. For starters, the California primary was moved up to help the legislators keep their jobs. They have put an initiative on the ballot remove term limits. The idea is that they end term limits and then file for the June primaries. There’s going to be another initiative on the ballot at the same time: non-partisan redistricting. Redistricting is very important to Governor Schwarzenegger. (at this point, I have to throw in a disclaimer. I worked on the 2005 redistricting initiative)
These are contradictory initiatives in the sense that one is about voting the legislators more power and the other is about reducing it. The entire California Democratic establishment will support removing term limits and oppose redistricting. And the Democrats have an open primary, so more people will be voting.
The thing is that we learned from the Times article is that Duf Sundheim, who, according to his own words, does not back McCain but is close to the Governor, is trying to open this up. Why? To get redistricting through for the governor and the donors, who are his source of power. I also suspect that the governor would like an open primary. I still contend that he could never have survived a primary and he knows that.
The upshot is that I don’t think that John McCain is behind this. He probably supports it. But this feels like the sort of thing that they do for California internal reasons. And I suspect that Fleischman (and the Romney campaign) is sticking this on McCain to make the fight easier where this fight must be won: the delegates to the September California Republican Party convention.
And, unless something changes dramatically, there just won’t be the votes at the CRP convention.