California Election 2018: Updates and Analysis
Ballots are still being counted, but last week’s election is already offering good news for Democrats hoping to take back the House of Representatives in November.
Not only did the party steer clear of its dreaded “shutout scenario,” in which an oversupply of candidates in some of the state’s most competitive races threatened to divide up the Democratic vote, leaving only Republicans to advance to the general election. The preliminary count also suggests that primary voters in certain high profile districts are much more inclined toward Democrats than they were in 2014.
That may or may not foretell a “blue wave” in California, but it does show that Republicans have their work cut out for them.
Why should the array of (mostly) leftward pointing arrows worry Republicans?
Comparing the June 2018 primary to the June primary in 2014, the share of the vote going towards Republican candidates has fallen dramatically in many of the very seats that Democrats are most hoping to flip this fall.
In the district along the border of Orange and San Diego counties represented by GOP Rep. Darrell Issa, who is retiring this year, a majority of primary voters cast their ballots for a Democrat.
A few more of the districts national Democrats have targeted are within spitting distance of a partisan break-even. In GOP Rep. Jeff Denham’s district in the Central Valley, Republicans cobbled together 52 percent of the vote (down from 59 percent in 2014). Likewise, in both Laguna Niguel and Palmdale, Rep. Mimi Walters and Rep. Steve Knight, the only Republicans running in their districts, got 52 percent of the vote as well.
That represents a big shift since 2014, the only other non-presidential election year in which a primary was held under the state’s new top-two system.
In Issa’s district, 16 candidates were vying to replace him in the lead up to June 5. The top two winners, Republican Diane Harkey and Democrat Mike Levin, won around 26 percent and 18 percent of the vote, respectively.
What would a head-to-head Harkey-Levin match-up look like without the 15 other competitors?
One way to guess is to tally up the share of the vote that went to all Republican candidates and compare it to the Democratic share. Assuming that the various supporters of Assemblyman Rocky Chávez, San Diego Supervisor Kristin Gaspar, and the other five Republicans running in that district are likely to fall behind their party’s candidate in the general election, that ought to give us a pretty good idea of what to expect in November.
And the results don’t look good for Harkey.
So far (and again, ballot are still being counted), the Republican candidates in Issa’s seat have garnered 48 percent of the vote. That’s compared to 51 percent for all the Democrats.
That’s also a steep decline from the 2014 primary share when Issa, running as the only Republican, won 61.9 percent of the vote.
Even in districts like Denham’s, Walters’, Knight’s, and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher’s, where Republicans won slim majorities of last week’s vote, those margins may be a little too close for comfort for the GOP. Republicans tend to be more reliable primary voters than Democrats and political independents, so the Republican share of the vote is likely to be lower in most districts come November.
In 2014, for example, Republican vote share between the primary and general elections declined by an average of 1.3 percentage points. That was true of all California congressional races, excluding those where one party was shut out or where a candidate ran unopposed. Looking only at the most competitive races (again, excluding shutouts), the average decline in Republican support was 3.3 percentage points between June and November.
We’ll update this graphic as more ballots are counted.
Win or lose, Dave Regan, the healthcare worker union leader who is pushing an initiative to regulate dialysis clinic profits, is getting some satisfaction at the huge sums being spent by the dialysis industry, $105 million and counting.
“In a weird kind of way, we must be doing something right,” Regan said, referring to the spending.
Proposition 8 would limit California’s 555 dialysis clinics to 15 percent profit, and provide incentives for the operators to increase staffing.
Regan’s Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West would dearly love to organize the 9,000 workers at the main private clinics, DaVita Kidney Care and Fresenius Medical Care.
“It’s unconscionable that UHW is willing to continuously put patient lives at risk to pursue its union organizing agenda,” said Kathy Fairbanks, spokeswoman for the industry opposed to the initiative.
Regan has used initiatives and threats of initiatives in the past in negotiations on behalf of his 100,000-member union. That Proposition 8 opponents are spending $105 million-plus to defeat the initiative is sure to send a message to Regan’s future foes that ballot measures come at a steep cost.
Not that he’s conceding his Proposition 8 will fail, but Regan said in an interview that he plans to press for new legislation in 2019 aimed at the dialysis industry, may return to the ballot in 2020 with a new initiative, and hopes to work with labor leaders in other states who might want to copy what he is doing.
“Honestly we did not just do this as a one-off. We are committed to patients and the workers over the long-term,” Regan said.
So far, the Colorado-based DaVita has led the opposition by spending $67 million to defeat the initiative and Fresenius Medical Care of Kansas has spent $29.3 million. Fairbanks declined to say what the ultimate budget is.
But Regan predicted the dialysis companies would spend $150 million to defeat Proposition 8.
A $150 million campaign seems unlikely; there are only two weeks until the Nov. 6 election day. But there’s little doubt that dialysis companies are willing to spend whatever it will take to defeat Proposition 8.
The $105 million-plus no-on-8 campaign would not be a California record but probably will be the single costliest state race in the nation this year.
“It is an incredibly lucrative line of business and they’re determined to defend the business model,” Regan said, calling dialysis “the payday lending part of the healthcare industry.”
Unlike other labor-backed campaigns, in which unions join together, Regan’s 100,000-member union is all but alone and has no coalition.
His Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West spent $17.6 million on the campaign. Others gave a relative pittance:
- $1 million from the California State Council of Service Employees International, the union’s umbrella.
- $2,500 from an electrical workers’ local.
- $53,000 from the California Democratic Party
An attack ad is called “breathtakingly gross.” A political scheme is declared “over the line.” And one award-winning journalist is called a “hack” while the cameras roll. Here’s a quick recap of what happened this week across California’s 53 congressional districts.
1. Blue wave or not, Dems are making it rain
How to sum up the latest congressional fundraising numbers published by the Federal Elections Commission?
One Republican consultant did it for a reporter with five words: “We’re getting our asses kicked.”
As Politico reports, Democratic challengers outraised Republican incumbent members of Congress in 92 districts across the country, a financing mismatch with “no historical precedent.” Of those 92 Democrats, three in California raised more than $3 million: Josh Harder, Katie Hill and Harley Rouda.
The day after the lopsided finance figures went live, the national GOP responded. In the north Central Valley district represented by Republican Jeff Denham, the National Republican Congressional Committee dropped an $800,000 attack ad against Democrat Josh Harder.
Expect more to come.
But it’s not just the size of the haul that counts. CALmatters’ Dan Morain crunched the numbers and found that the Democrats running in the seven Republican districts that voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 are vastly outraising their GOP counterparts among donors who give less than $200. That has value beyond the dollars and cents, writes Morain. Popularity among small-dollar donors can often indicate where the grassroots enthusiasm lies.
2. Speaking of getting hosed…
If Proposition 6 doesn’t pass, Republican congressional candidate Diane Harkey is going to need a new pair of shoes.
At a rally in support of the state ballot measure, which would roll back a recent gas tax increase, she warned that higher prices at the pump will incentivize more Californians to use other forms of transportation.
Though she had a different way of putting it.
“It’s forcing you to take bikes, get on trains, hose off at the depot and try to get to work,” she said, in a video captured by a KPBS reporter. “That does not work. That does not work with my hair and heels. I cannot do that and I will not do that.”
The event, which also included state Senate Minority Leader Patricia Bates, a Republican from Laguna Niguel, will kick off a statewide “Yes on 6” tour. They’ll make their way across California by bus.
3. Rouda and Rohrabacher’s debate squared
Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher and Democratic businessman Harley Rouda locked horns in two consecutive debates this week. One was the formal discussion focused on policy issues of national importance, the other was a pre-event fight about cribsheets.
According to a summary by Voice of OC, the proper debate, hosted by InsideOC’s Rick Reiff, touched on Russian interference in the 2016 election, whether “Dreamers” (undocumented immigrants brought to the country as minors) should be granted permanent legal status, and whether undocumented immigrants should be given access to Medicare.
Though Rohrabacher won his last election by nearly 17 percentage points in a district where registered Republicans far outnumber Democrats, recent polls show the two candidates in a dead heat.
Rouda, not surprisingly, used his final statement to ask certain voters to put their partisan allegiances aside.
‘More than anything, forget if…there’s a D or an R next to either of our names,” he said. “Vote for the person who has the character that you deserve in Congress.”
While the head-to-head won’t be aired on PBS SoCal until Sunday at 5 p.m., a pre-debate debate caught on tape is drawing attention.
Apparently it all came down to a disagreement over whether the candidates were allowed to bring prepared notes. Rouda’s staff claimed that Rohrabacher was in violation of an agreement that his campaign had arrived at with the InsideOC staff beforehand. Reiff, the show’s host, said he did not recall making such a rule.
“He doesn’t remember it and you do—that sounds familiar, doesn’t it?” said Rohrabacher, in an apparent reference to the sexual assault allegations against Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Rohrabacher was ultimately allowed to keep his notes and though Rouda did not follow through with a threat to pull out of the event altogether, feelings were still raw among some of his campaign staffers. Communications Director Jack d’Annibale ended the exchange by calling Reiff, who shared a 1987 Pulitzer Prize at the Akron Beacon Journal, “a hack.”
4. Too close for comfort
Last fall, a public affairs firm working against the repeal of a recent increase in the state gas tax discussed the possibility of “targeting” vulnerable Republican congressional candidates with the state’s transportation agency.
In emails uncovered by the Associated Press, a partner with the Sacramento-based Bicker, Castillo & Fairbanks notified the state agency’s deputy communications secretary that the firm was planning to publish a series of newspaper opinion pieces going after Jeff Denham, Steve Knight, Mimi Walters and Darrell Issa. Issa has since announced that he will not be seeking re-election.
The agency spokesperson responded by suggesting the agency help find an author in Issa’s district. The agency did not follow through with the suggestion. Still, that level of coordination between an advocacy organization and a state agency is “way over the line,” Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School, told the A.P.
“I don’t want to say it’s a smoking gun, but that is so much more explicit than I ever would have predicted they would be,” she said.
5. “Remarkably, breathtakingly gross”
And it wouldn’t be a roundup of California congressional news without the latest unseemliness out of California’s 50th.
This week, Rep. Duncan Hunter Jr., the San Diego County Republican under federal indictment for dipping into campaign cash for extravagant personal use, quadrupled down on his unfounded claim that his Democratic opponent represents a threat to national security.
In downtown San Diego, Hunter Sr., the embattled congressman’s father and a former member of Congress himself, held a press conference in front of the USS Midway Museum suggesting that Ammar Campa-Najjar would “pass along military information” to his Palestinian family members.
I’m here with former congressman Duncan Hunter Sr, father of the incumbent congressman on California’s 50th district, in front of the USS Mission in San Diego as Mr. Hunter repeats his son’s attacks on Democratic opponent Ammar Campa-Najjar.
Separately, three retired Marine Corps generals wrote a letter warning that Campa-Najjar “represents a national security risk.” The letter was distributed to voters by the Hunter campaign.
Campa-Najjar, who obtained a federal security clearance as a former Department of Labor employee, is of mixed Mexican and Palestinian descent. Though his grandfather was a high-ranking member of the terrorist organization responsible for the Munich Olympic games massacre, Campa-Najjar has said that he never met his grandfather and has repeatedly denounced him.
It remains to be seen whether Hunter’s strategy—questioning his political opponent’s religious faith (Campa-Najjar is a Christian, for what it’s worth) and dredging up his dark family history—will convince the Republican-leaning members of his district to overlook his own legal woes and alleged ethical missteps. But outside San Diego County, Hunter’s tactics have been described as “breathtaking”—and not in a good way.
As one Daily Beast reporter put it on Twitter, “Even in this insane political time, a congressman who grifted veterans to buy golf supplies accusing his Arab Christian opponent of being a terrorist is remarkably, breathtakingly gross.”
Which must be a pretty high bar.
In less than two weeks, Californians decide who will lead public education in the state. Tony Thurmond and Marshall Tuck, both Democrats, are vying to be the next Superintendent of Public Instruction, in a race that has drawn tens of millions of dollars in campaign money and evolved into a proxy battle between organized labor and education reformers.
Thurmond, a current member of the Assembly and former social worker, is backed by the state’s teachers unions. And Tuck, a former executive at a nonprofit public school partnership and a charter school network, has the support of nonprofit charter school advocates.
CALmatters’ reporters interviewed both candidates for our in-depth voter guide. Here’s a video comparing their positions on charter schools, teacher tenure, why they’re qualified for the job, and the issues facing California’s public schools.
All of this in less than 10 minutes.
Candidates Tony Thurmond and Marshall Tuck discuss the future of California schools and why they are best qualified to be the next Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Learn more about the candidates and watch their full interviews on our in-depth elections guide.