California Election 2018: Updates and Analysis
A raft of new polls buoy Democratic hopes for a blue wave. A sexual harassment allegation gets revoked, but not everyone is buying the change of heart. A Republican congressman releases the season’s biggest and weirdest attack ad—and his opponent isn’t even the prime target. Here’s a quick recap of what happened this week across California’s 53 congressional districts:
1. Leaning Blue
In half a dozen of the state’s most competitive congressional districts, a new poll shows Democrats may have the edge.
Across Orange County and up through the Central Valley, likely voters favor the Democratic candidate over the Republican in five GOP-held districts. The two candidates are tied in a sixth.
What’s shifting these red districts blue? No surprise there, according to the director of the Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies, which conducted the survey by email.
“Trump appears to be the main motivator for voters in these districts,” Mark DiCamillo told the Los Angeles Times.
Of the eight, there are two districts where approval of the president is above 50 percent, and in those Republican candidates are outpolling Democrats. But unfortunately for the GOP, Trump isn’t popular in the remaining competitive districts.
2. Propaganda Machine
Last week, Tulare Republican Rep. Devin Nunes’s re-election campaign put out a glossy, 40-page mailer attacking one of his biggest perceived enemies.
No, that wouldn’t be his Democratic challenger, the prosecutor Andrew Janz, but the Fresno Bee.
As KVPR reports, the novella-sized campaign ad contains clips from Nunes-friendly news articles, a few digs at Janz, and what is likely the best drawing of a Kool-Aid guzzling bumble bee aboard a sinking ship ever to make it into a political mailer. But Team Nunes dedicated the bulk of the effort to denouncing his hometown paper as a “propaganda machine.”
The Bee’s alleged offenses include sending reporters to learn more about Nunes by reaching out to his family and neighbors, reporting on anti-Nunes protests, running opinion pieces critical of Nunes and his businesses, and allowing their work to be shared online by potty-mouthed Twitter users.
3. MeToo Reversal
Last May, a Democratic candidate for Assembly publicly accused Gil Cisneros, a millionaire congressional candidate running to replace GOP Rep. Ed Royce in north Orange County, of seeking sex in exchange for political and financial support.
Cisneros, a Democrat, denied the allegation, but it provided plenty of fodder for attack ads. Late last month, the GOP-affiliated Congressional Leadership Fund, which has been underwriting some of the sharpest attacks of the political season, released an ad asking why Cisneros is “trying to silence” the accuser, Melissa Fazli, “because she stands by her account.”
No longer. On Monday, Fazli tweeted that after sitting down with Cisneros, she’s willing to chalk the whole thing up to a “HUGE misunderstanding.”
Had a sit down meeting w/ @GilCisnerosCA facilitated by @Mjadvice last night and I’m so relieved that it was a HUGE misunderstanding. Shame @CLFSuperPAC who took my story & weaponized it WITHOUT my permission and victimized me all over again. Take down your vile ads immediately.
A spokesperson for the Congressional Leadership Fund questioned the reversal in a statement to Fox News: “Is this another example of a rich and powerful man using his power to intimidate a victim of sexual harassment?”
According to the Orange County Register, the attack ad will no longer be aired on TV, but it is still available online.
4. Prop. 6 backlash
Congressional candidate and Sen. Elizabeth Warren ally Katie Porter was the first Democrat to break ranks with her party and support Proposition 6, the gas tax reduction measure on this year’s ballot.
Given the political makeup of her district, currently represented by Republican Rep. Mimi Walters and where registered GOP voters outnumber Democrats by seven percentage points, it must have seemed a canny political move. Three other Democratic candidates in vulnerable seats have followed suit.
But the backlash has come. This week, as CALmatters’ Dan Morain reported, the Laborers’ International Union of North America pulled their endorsement.
5. Devin Nunes: Congressman…firebrand…Iowa Milk Farmer?
Political reporter Ryan Lizza set out to explain for Esquire why the family dairy owned by Rep. Devin Nunes’ family, which the congressman really touts as evidence of his agricultural roots, isn’t even in California.
What he found was a much larger story about American agriculture’s complicated relationship with immigration law.
6. Square off in San Diego
If nothing else, Republican Diane Harkey and Democrat Mike Levin provided voters of the California 49th with a very clear contrast in their first televised debate this week.
On taxes, trade, immigration, climate change, and foreign policy, Harkey praised President Trump. She called the Mueller investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election “much ado about nothing” and warned that if elected, Levin would push for impeachment proceedings.
Levin disagreed on every front, insisted that he isn’t running on an impeachment platform, and said that the Republican-led House of Representatives is “not upholding its constitutional responsibility.”
7. Marijuana mercantilism
Why is the United States permitting the importation of Canadian cannabis, when there’s more than enough of the homegrown stuff to go around?
That was a question that 15 members of Congress put to the federal Department of Justice. At issue was the fact that the federal government had recently given Canadian cannabis cultivators the go-ahead to ship their product to researchers in the United States (for science only!), while delaying the approval of willing American producers.
Why are we importing #cannabis from Canada for research while the @DEAHQ isn’t acting on more than two dozen U.S. cannabis manufacturer applications? @RepMattGaetz and I are leading a bipartisan effort to find out. #BuyAmerican
The five Californians to sign the letter were Democrats Rep. Eric Swalwell (CA-15), Rep. Zoe Lofgren (CA-19), Rep. Jimmy Penetta (CA-20), and Jared Huffman (CA-02), along with Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (CA-48).
8. Where’s TJ?
Critics of Democrat TJ Cox have been calling him a carpetbagger ever since he left Modesto and moved 100 miles or so down Highway 99 in order to launch his campaign against Republican David Valadao in the Hanford-based district.
Recent reporting from the Fresno Bee showing that Cox had listed a second family home in Maryland—some 2,700 miles away—as his principal residence on state property tax records isn’t likely to help matters. This week, the Cox campaign told the Bee that it was an “honest mistake.”
9. Boo Taxes, Yay Tax Revenue
California Republicans have made Proposition 6, a ballot measure that would repeal a recent increase in the gas tax, a cornerstone of their 2018 election strategy.
But critics of the proposal, like many business, labor, and local government groups, warn that passing Prop. 6 would take away a key source of funding needed to undertake thousands of transportation improvements projects across the state.
Projects like the I-5 Golden State Chokepoint Relief Program which, as Santa Clarita’s KHTS reported, received a $47 million federal grant this week. At the ceremony to hand off the novelty-sized check were U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, several local elected officials and Republican Rep. Steve Knight.
Knight, like the entire Republican California delegation, supports Prop. 6.
“I think the state government is trying to maybe push off their priorities by passing a gas tax and not saying that this is a priority,” Knight said, hoping to clear things up.
In any campaign, big money players get the most attention. But Democrats running in California’s seven most competitive congressional districts are vastly outraising Republicans in small-dollar donations, according to a review of campaign money compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.
It’s a display of voter enthusiasm that can pay long-term dividends for beneficiaries.
Overall, Democratic candidates running in the seven GOP-held seats where Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump in 2016 have raised $40 million to the Republicans’ $18.7 million. That’s a stunning turn of fortune from 2016 when Republicans running in those seats raised $17.7 million to the Democrats’ $5.7 million.
Democrats running in those seven districts raised $6.4 million in donations of less than $200, almost 10 times the $671,000 raised by Republicans through the first three quarters of 2018, campaign finance reports show.
“There has never been anything like this,” said Democratic strategist Bill Burton, who is involved in several congressional races in California. “Regular grassroots Americans are saying they want change in dozens of races across the country.”
- Altogether, Republican Congressman Jeff Denham of Turlock raised $4.1 million to Democratic challenger Josh Harder’s $6 million.
- Only 1.6 percent of Denham’s money is in small-dollar donations, while nearly 18 percent of Harder’s came in small amounts.
- Republican Congressman Steve Knight of Palmdale raised $2.1 million, but less than 2 percent has come in small increments.
- Knight’s Democratic challenger Katie Hill raised $6.26 million, including 21 percent in increments of less than $200.
Republicans have used outside spending funded by wealthy donors as an equalizer, although Democratic groups and funders including the League of Conservation Voters and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg are spending heavily to flip seats.
Donors who give less than $200 aren’t identified by name in federal disclosures, and may not live in the candidates’ district. But candidates know who they are, collect their email addresses and regularly send them solicitations.
Not all donors can afford to give the maximum $2,700 under federal law. But candidates can return to small-dollar donors multiple times to help fuel their campaign efforts, ranging from television ads to get-out-the-vote drives. They also know that people who give money vote and volunteer, if not for them then for candidates in their home districts.
The phenomenon extends to districts where no Democratic expert thinks Democratic challengers have any prayer of winning.
Democrat Audrey Denney has outraised Republican Congressman Doug LaMalfa of Richvale in a deep red district in far Northern California, $888,000 to LaMalfa’s $810,000. Almost 40 percent of Denney’s money, $350,000, has come in small increments, compared with 2.8 percent of LaMalfa’s money.
There are Republican exceptions, much of it Trump-related:
- Little known Republican Omar Navarro raised $546,000 in small sums in his long-shot challenge against Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters of Los Angeles. She and Trump regularly tangle.
- Tulare County Congressman Devin Nunes has used his close alliance with Trump to raise his profile nationally, and to raise money—$10.5 million for this election, almost half of it in small-dollar donations. Challenger Andrew Janz has raised 54 percent of his $7.2 million from small donors in the first half of the year.
- Republican Congressman Tom McClintock of Elk Grove raised 24 percent of his $1.5 million from small donors. McClintock, whose tenure in office dates to 1982, has cultivated his list of GOP regulars for decades.
Overall, however, challenger Jessica Morse has outraised McClintock, pulling in $2.8 million.
If you shop like a lot of us, you narrow your choices to two options and then match up their features to determine the best fit for you. Consumer Reports has perfected this approach when you’re torn between, say, a Honda versus a Toyota.
Now CALmatters gives you the opportunity to size up finalists for every statewide office in the California 2018 election—from governor to attorney general to state schools superintendent and more—with that kind of comparison tool. Select the issues that matter most and see how the candidates agree and differ. It’s just one of the unique features you’ll find on our 2018 voter guide.
What’s the sound of one man debating? California voters got an idea today at the first and only scheduled candidate forum in the 2018 U.S. Senate race.
State Sen. Kevin de León may have debated Sen. Dianne Feinstein at the Public Policy Institute of California’s downtown San Francisco office this afternoon, but Feinstein wasn’t interested in debating him.
De León, the former president pro tempore of the state senate who is nonetheless not well known by many voters, did his best to distinguish himself from California’s long-time sitting senator, criticizing her as a representative of a “status quo” that “keeps resisting the resistance.”
“I wish Democrats in Washington would fight like hell for Dreamers just the way that Donald J. Trump and the Republicans fight like hell for their stupid wall,” he told the institute’s president, Mark Baldassare, in a not so veiled dig at his opponent across the stage. “That lack of courage, always backpedaling every single time, is not the type of leadership that we need today.”
Feinstein largely focused on her record as a four-plus term senator for California, speaking about her policy proposals, while largely declining to engage her opponent. When she did acknowledge de León, it was generally to agree with him.
The divergent approaches to the “conversation,” as it was billed, were in part a result of the format. Rather than the response/counter-response structure of more traditional campaign debates, this was a mediated discussion between the two candidates. This made for a fairly staid and largely amicable hour of policy discussion. That certainly favors Feinstein, who leads in the polls and name recognition. De León, meanwhile, was hoping to change the nature of the race by tarnishing Feinstein’s brand and making a splash with new voters.
On policy matters, the two candidates disagreed on relatively little.
They shared the view, for example, that sexual assault allegations against Justice Brett Kavanaugh should be revisited. They agreed that children should no longer be separated at the border and that immigration reform is long overdue. They both oppose the twin Delta tunnels water project and support more gun control.
When de León tried to make a point that Democrats in Washington (including Feinstein) let voters down by failing to renew the federal ban on so-called assault weapons when they controlled Congress in 2009, the senior senator did not take the bait.
“I don’t think we disagree on this,” she said. “I think we agree.”
“We can move on then, unless…?” said Baldassare, looking at Feinstein. She said nothing and they moved on.
Likewise, when de León laid the blame for the Iraq War on Feinstein, who voted to authorize the invasion, or called out her support for the Homeland Security Act, which authorized Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Feinstein let the comments slide.
That the policy preferences of the two candidates overlap so much is hardly surprising. They’re both Democrats. Under California’s “top two” electoral system, the first and second place winners in the primary move onto the general election, regardless of party. On June 5th, Feinstein won 44 percent of the vote, while de León won 12 percent. The remainder was split across 30 other candidates.
But the two candidates did part ways on two issues: health care reform and the impeachment of President Trump.
Feinstein said that she supports a public option health insurance program for individuals to buy into, reducing the age for Medicare eligibility, allowing Medicare to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices, and increasing health insurance subsidies under the Affordable Care Act.
De León supports expanding Medicare to everyone, brushing off criticisms that such a program is unaffordable.
“Washington always seems to find the money for its priorities: two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan…tax cuts for the rich,” he said.
In the closest thing to a direct exchange, Feinstein argued that Democratic numbers in the Senate precluded the possibility of removing the president from office.
“What changes things are elections,” she said. But de León was not convinced by the arithmetic.
“We need Democrats in Washington D.C. to have the courage of their convictions…regardless of what the makeup is of the House as well as the U.S. Senate,” he said toward the end of the event.
One area in which de León held his fire was the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Though he had been sharply critical of Feinstein’s handling of the sexual assault allegations by Palo Alto psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford during the hearings, he dropped that tactic.
Today’s low-profile sit down echoes last week’s gubernatorial debate, when Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom squared off with his Republican opponent John Cox in a mid-morning radio appearance. That too was the one and only candidate forum scheduled during the general election, held at a definitively non-prime time hour, eliciting complaints from the underdog. Cox has clamored for additional, higher profile debates. Likewise, de León has questioned whether the PPIC event even meets the definition.
“Hardworking Californians, people who work two, three jobs can’t take off in the middle of the day to turn on a livestream and watch this conversation,” a campaign spokesman said last week.
De León faces long odds in toppling Feinstein. Even so, that the event took place at all suggests that this race represents an unusually strong challenge to California’s senior U.S. senator. Feinstein hasn’t gone head-to-head with an electoral opponent—whether in debate or mere “conversation”—since 2000. De León was sure to remind the audience of that point.
“I think the last time Senator Feinstein had an opponent on the same stage was about 18 years ago,” he said, turning to his opponent. “So this is historic and I want to thank you very much for this opportunity to be here with you today.”