Despite the facts that 1) many respectable blogs have excused themselves from opining on the California recall, 2) my familiarity with California state politics is woefully passing, and 3) my only stake in the outcome is that of the rest of the country "politically downwind" of the Golden State, I’m going to wade in with one question that seems curiously unanswered in this over-examined affair.  Many political writers who otherwise would have been adrift in the August news doldrums have embraced and played up the circus sideshow angle of the hordes of candidates for governor.  The prospect of dishing on der grosser Grazer and other "celebridates" seems to have so enchanted the chattering class that they are disinclined to ask: where were all these candidates nine months ago when California held, you know, an election for governor?  The filing requirements aren’t any lower for recall elections.

I suppose part of the reason for the large number of candidates is a phenomenon that helped make the recall possible in the first place: the low voter turnout for the November 2002 election.  Had the turnout been higher, the greater number of signatures needed to launch the recall might have been too many for the recall’s sponsors to gather (or might have deterred them from trying at all).  The low turnout also gave the impression that Gray Davis won by being the biggest fish in a very boring pond, leading to the conclusion that name recognition and/or gimmicky novelty might have outweighed political acumen.

But it seems clear to me that the chief attraction for all these gubernatorial candidacies is their brevity.  The candidates have less than two months to make their case to the single largest regional electorate in the nation.  There is much less time to raise money, hire focus groups, produce ads (and counter-ads and counter-counter-ads), hold debates, and kiss babies.  In a longer campaign, the costs of supporting all these activities gives the advantage to those candidates backed by established networks of volunteers, donors, and professionals.  In this relatively short "lightning campaign," the pols are on a more level playing field with colorful amateurs.

However one feels about the recall, the candidates, or the ultimate victor in California, the 2003 recall election will almost certainly compare favorably with the spiritual death march of the 2004 presidential primary and general elections.  While most election reform treads too heavily on freedom of speech for my comfort, I can’t help longing for some way to shorten the campaign season, which for quadrennial elections has now reached eighteen months, which is longer than the most advanced hype for the next Harry Potter movie.

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