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California Election 2018: Updates and Analysis

California Election 2018: Updates and Analysis

June 1, 2018

GOP now at number 3

Election 2018

Sept. 26, 2018 9:00 pm

Wording matters: Decoding mixed messages on gas tax and rent control from new poll

Election Reporter
California voters are leaning towards no on both Prop. 6 and Prop. 10—but they are sending mixed signals.

Do California voters actually hate a tax but not want to repeal it?

It might seem so based on their answers in a poll released tonight from the Public Policy Institute of California.

Asked whether they support Proposition 6—a measure that would repeal a recent increase in the state gas tax and nix roughly $5 billion from the state transportation budget—a majority of likely voters polled said they oppose the repeal, compared to only 39 percent in favor. That’s bad news for the proponents of Prop. 6, including Republican gubernatorial candidate John Cox.

But here’s the key: That question provided voters with the state-approved description of Prop. 6 that will appear on their ballots: “Eliminates Certain Road Repair and Transportation Funding. Requires Certain Fuel Taxes and Vehicle Fees be Approved by the Electorate.”

When the same voters were asked whether they favor simply repealing the gas tax hike, with no mention of the specific ballot measure language, 50 percent said that they would gladly roll it back.

Survey respondents sent similarly mixed messages on Proposition 10, which, if passed, would repeal the decades-long ban on new rent control laws in California. A majority of voters were inclined to support rent control as an idea, but when given the precise language of the proposition, more than not said they oppose the actual effort to expand rent control. Even a majority of renters said that they plan to vote “no.”

“It’s not unusual for voters to approve of something in concept, but then get to the proposition and find things about the specific details that they might not support,” Mark Baldassarre, president of the institute, explained.

That’s why proposed ballot measure titles and summaries sometimes trigger legal challenges.

One glimmer of hope for the “Yes on 6” campaign: Republican voters appear much more enthusiastic about the measure than Democrats. Elected leaders and activists within the GOP are counting on Prop. 6 to gin up enough anti-tax turnout to save them from an electoral shellacking in November. The fact that 61 percent of Republicans say the ballot measure is “very important,” compared to 43 percent of both Democrats and independents suggests they may be onto something.

This week, gas tax proponents announced plans to place on the 2020 ballot a measure that they say will pay for the gas tax repeal by diverting certain tax revenues to road maintenance projects, cutting union-negotiated compensation packages and terminating the state’s high-speed rail project. But it’s too early to say whether voters will warm to Prop. 6 once they learn that there’s a plan in the works to pay for it—or whether the numbers actually add up.

“People enter the world of propositions with some skepticism,” said Baldassarre. “They usually decide to vote against them unless they’re really given a compelling reason to vote yes. And so far, at least, (that compelling reason) is not there.”

But whatever uncertainty the public is feeling about these two propositions, California’s political class isn’t prepping for a close fight on either front.

In our latest installment of the Target Book Insider Track Survey—a poll of the consultants, lobbyists and other political movers and shakers at the center of California politics—an overwhelming majority predict the effort to repeal the rent control ban will go down in flames. The new PPIC poll results echo that. Plus the “no” campaign is currently outspending proponents nearly 5-to-1.

In an earlier edition of the Insider Track Survey, respondents predicted Prop. 6 would fail, too.

The PPIC voter poll also offered good news to Democrats counting on progressive electoral energy to dislodge Republicans from their majority in the House of Representatives. The survey found that 54 percent of likely California voters plan on voting for their local Democratic candidate, while 37 percent said they favor the Republican. Those results mirror the 55-41 margin reported in a recent USC Dornsife/LA Times poll.

More worrisome for the GOP is that according to the PPIC results voters are evenly split between the two parties across the 11 most competitive congressional districts in the state. Nine are currently represented by a Republican.

At the top of the ballot, the survey results also reiterated the conventional wisdom about the two largest statewide races in 2018: Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s lead over Cox has narrowed but remains wide (51 percent to 39 percent). U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s support has also fallen but she is still outpacing challenger state Sen. Kevin de León by a healthy 11 percentage points. A 53 percent majority of likely voters said they approve of the job that Feinstein is doing in Washington D.C. But nearly 1 in 4 voters said expected to not vote in the race, which because of California’s top-two primary is now a Democrat-vs-Democrat showdown.

Will Feinstein’s handling of Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings affect her electoral chances? Not much, say a majority of political insiders. Fifty-eight percent of respondents in the Insider Track poll said it would make “no difference at all.”

Learn more about Prop. 6 and Prop. 10 in the videos below:

Gas Tax Repeal, Prop. 6, in 1 minute

From, Ben Christopher explains Prop. 6, the rent control initiative, in 1 minute.

California’s rent control initiative explained in 1 minute’s Matt Levin explains Prop. 10, the rent control initiative, in 1 minute.

Want to submit a reader reaction? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact Dan Morain with any questions,, (916) 201.6281.

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Election 2018

Oct. 17, 2018 5:42 pm

Democrats get big bucks from small-dollar donors

Senior Editor
In California, small-dollar donations are mostly going to Democrats.

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.”

Some examples:

  • 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.

Want to submit a reader reaction? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact Dan Morain with any questions,, (916) 201.6281.

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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.

Want to submit a reader reaction? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact Dan Morain with any questions,, (916) 201.6281.

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Election 2018

Oct. 17, 2018 2:33 pm

Feinstein and de León debate in lopsided forum

Election Reporter
U.S. Sen Dianne Feinstein and California Sen. Kevin de León
U.S. Sen Dianne Feinstein and California Sen. Kevin de León

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.”

To learn more about the candidates, read our recent profiles on Kevin de León and Dianne Feinstein. You can also explore the CALmatters voter guide.

Want to submit a reader reaction? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact Dan Morain with any questions,, (916) 201.6281.

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