California Election 2018: Updates and Analysis
While all eyes were on the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings this week, candidates didn’t stop campaigning across California’s 53 congressional districts. Here’s a recap:
1. A #MeToo moment from CA-25
Lots of politicians weighed in on the sexual assault allegations against U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh this week, but nobody made it more personal than Katie Hill, Democratic candidate for Congress in the 25th district north of Los Angeles.
I have experienced sexual assault multiple times and in different ways – I never reported and I know how hard it is for somebody to come forward. I also know that many women are in the same place. It is not your fault. You deserve to be heard. We believe you.
Hill also shared a video in which she says “if we let that go, for someone in power who should be held to the highest possible standard, instead we are showing to boys and men across the country that it’s OK.” By late today, it had received almost half a million views.
2. Worst of the worst?
GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter is, of course, under federal indictment for allegedly treating campaign donations as a slush fund to finance personal expenses—groceries, dental bills, tequila shots, lavish vacations and, most memorably, airfare for a pet rabbit. His recourse as he fights to keep his San Diego-area seat?
Blow a dog whistle so loud it will make your ears bleed.
What the ad fails to mention: His Democratic opponent, Ammar Campa-Najjar, is actually a Christian and has denounced a grandfather he said he never really knew. His campaign told the Los Angeles Times that he held a security clearance when he worked in the Obama administration. And California Democratic Party chairman Eric Bauman condemned Hunter for “Islamophobic-baiting.”
Earlier this week, Hunter gave a speech at a Republican woman’s group warning that hoards of “Islamists” are running for federal office this year and that Europe has been ruined by the emigration of Muslims.
As for Campa-Najjar’s campaign, rather than denouncing Hunter in this ad, he lets the familiar folks at Fox News do it for him.
Even so, the district is so heavily Republican that a new Monmouth University Poll shows Hunter leading by 8 points among all possible voters and 15 points using a midterm turnout model.
“One in ten voters in this district think Hunter is probably guilty of campaign fraud, but they are going to vote for him anyway, said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute, in a press release. “I know this is a deep red district, but you’ve got to wonder if this isn’t taking partisan loyalty to a new extreme.”
This race is shaping up to be one of the nastiest out there—although there’s a distinction to be made between “my opponent is terrorist because of something his grandfather did” nasty, and “my opponent is verifiably under federal indictment” nasty.
3. Blaming the Bay
At a debate sponsored by the Turlock Journal, Democratic candidate Josh Harder put GOP Rep. Jeff Denham on the spot, demanding that the incumbent declare whether he accepts man-made climate change as reality.“I don’t believe in liberal policies,” Denham began provoking groans from many members of the audience.
When Harder pressed him to answer directly, Denham said, “We shouldn’t have to pay for the Bay Area’s dirty air. Yes, I believe in climate change.”
“Man-made?” asked Harder, who made his career in Silicon Valley and has been dubbed “Bay Area Harder” by Team Dehnam.
“Bay Area-made, yes,” Denham said.
4. Poll Jumping
The New York Times has teamed up with Siena College to poll some of the nation’s most competitive congressional races. A recent survey found GOP Rep. Mimi Walters of Orange County only had the support of 43 percent of likely voters in her district, trailing her Democratic challenger, consumer attorney Katie Porter, who came in at 48 percent. But with a margin of error of 4.5 percent, the race is still a toss-up.
As expected, Democrats looked even stronger in their bid to capture the seat of retiring GOP Rep. Darrell Issa, who represented parts of Orange and San Diego counties. Lawyer Mike Levin is outpacing former state legislator Diane Harkey by a 10-point margin.
And the NYT-Siena poll shows a nail-biter for GOP. Rep. Steve Knight against Democratic challenger Katie Hill, in the district just north of Los Angeles. The two are separated by just 2 percentage points. It also looks like a dead heat between GOP Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, who’s been dogged by his close ties to Russia, and Democratic businessman Harley Rouda in their match to represent Orange County’s wealthy coastal enclaves.
The electorate is split across the state. According to a new poll from the Public Policy Institute of California, voters are evenly split between Democratic and Republican candidates across the 11 most competitive congressional districts in the state. That should come as ominous news for Republicans, who hold nine of them.
You can find the latest polling on notable congressional races—and more information about candidates and their districts—in our CALmatters voter guide.
5. California is awash in cash
Whether or not California Democrats get their blue wave this November, the green wave has already arrived. According to Federal Election Committee, congressional races across southern California top the list for most outside political spending in the nation this campaign season.
First place goes to the Rohrabacher-Rouda content, which has attracted $7.9 million and counting. The Levin-Harkey race is the third-ranking target of SuperPAC cash at $6.7 million, and Porter-Walters is sixth with $4.7 million. Fourth place was claimed by the Democrat Gil Cisneros and Republican Young Kim race with $5.5 million in yet another Orange County showdown. Democrats are hoping to flip at least some of the seven House seats that were held by Republicans but voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016—part of a nationwide effort to take control of the House.
6. Pelosi may be an albatross, but Trump is a bigger one.
Republicans steered into this election season determined to tie every Democratic congressional candidate to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, convinced her unpopularity would pull them down. A fair number of Democrats have also suggested she’s an outdated symbol of the party and has overstayed her welcome in leadership.
But a private poll commissioned by the Republican National Committee has identified a snag in that strategy. The survey, obtained by Bloomberg, found that respondents favored Pelosi-aligned candidates over Trump-aligned ones— 50 percent to 45 percent. Independents preferred candidates perceived as Pelosi allies over those tied to the president by 4 points.
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.”