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For a Politician, What’s a Tight Election Like?

| November 15, 2010
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In 2002, Steve Westly beat Tom McClintock in the California State Controller election by roughly 17,000 votes out of 6.5 million cast. That’s a margin of .3 percent, resulting in the closest California election that anyone can remember.

But in the Kamala Harris-Steve Cooley Attorney General marathon, we may be heading for an even tighter finish. The latest numbers from the Secretary of State’s election site puts Harris at 4,100,656 votes and Cooley at 4,085,457. That’s a .2 percent margin, close enough for the eventual loser to demand a recount. Adding to the drama is the topsy-turvy manner of the vote tally (Cooley actually gave a victory speech on election night) and the fact that Cooley is the lone hope for Republicans to avoid a statewide shutout this November in what has been the Year of the Republican across most of the rest of the country. From a San Francisco Chronicle article, Nov 9:

Polls had showed the two district attorneys locked in a one-point race the week before the election. Longtime political observer Barbara O’Connor said the closeness of the contest for a state office might be unprecedented in California.

“This is highly unusual. … In 30 years, I can’t think of any other races like this,” said O’Connor, a Cal State Sacramento political communications professor emerita.

The tightness of the race is particularly interesting, she said, because Democrats easily won the rest of the statewide offices. However, given the polling, “I’m not really surprised,” O’Connor said, “but it is painful for it to go on this long.”

Painful indeed. These days — and by that I mean the last 3,000 years — the vast majority of people tend to think of politicians as 70% ego, 20 % ambition, and 10% hair styling. But somewhere in that make-up is also some portion of humanity. To that end, Scott Shafer recently interviewed Steve Westly about what it was like emotionally to get snagged on this type of nailbiting vote count, and what the candidates who do face from a logistical standpoint.

“Emotionally, you’ve just finished asking every friend, every acquaintance you’ve ever met for money,” Westly says, “and you finally get done, and then people say ‘we have to drive people to the polls for you, we have to get them pizza…you need to raise another $500,000, get back on the phone. So back you go. I was sitting in a very small room, in a very small campaign office in Redwood City for another 22 days, which happened to be right through Thanksgiving. There were other things I’d hoped to be doing.”

Scott Shafer interviews Steve Westly:

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