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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

Oct. 1, 2018 4:52 pm

Democrat Katie Porter’s opposition to gas tax costs her labor endorsement

Senior Editor
A key labor union pulled its endorsement of Democrat Katie Porter in a hot Orange County Congressional race over her opposition to California’s gas tax hike.
A key labor union pulled its endorsement of Democrat Katie Porter in a hot Orange County Congressional race over her opposition to California’s gas tax hike.

Orange County Democrat Katie Porter, challenging Republican Rep. Mimi Walters in one of the nation’s most hotly contested races, lost the laborers’ union endorsement after she ran an ad opposing California’s new gasoline tax.

Porter, a UC Irvine law school professor, is challenging two-term incumbent Walters for the Irvine-area congressional seat. It’s one of the seven California congressional districts where Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump in 2016. A recent New York Times-Siena College Poll showed Porter narrowly leading Walters.

In an interview, Porter said she intends to vote for Proposition 6, the initiative to repeal the $5 billion a year tax, which is funding road and bridge repairs. Porter denounced the 12-cent per gallon tax, approved by the Legislature in 2017, as “regressive,” meaning it takes a larger bite from low-income workers than from wealthier people.

She added that gas tax revenue would do little to help congestion in her district, and that road repairs could be funded by other means such as by general taxes or vehicle registration fees.

Orange County GOP Rep. Mimi Walters and Democratic challenger Katie Porter

Orange County GOP Rep. Mimi Walters and Democratic challenger Katie Porter

Congressional Republicans funded the petition drive to place Prop. 6 on the Nov. 5 ballot, believing they could use Democrats’ support for the gas tax to amp up up conservative turnout and hold onto their seats. Walters donated $135,000 to the measure.

Indicating that Prop. 6 is driving a wedge between organized labor and Democrats who oppose the tax, the Laborers’ International Union of North America revoked its endorsement of Porter after she appeared in a campaign ad opposing the tax. That stand, the union said, was in “direct conflict with the values of LIUNA and its membership.”

Porter said she was “sorry to lose the support of hard-working folks” in the union, but added: “I am not going to be cowed into taking a position that hurts families in the 45th Congressional district.”

Pivoting to her opponent, Porter noted that Walters voted for President Donald Trump’s tax overhaul in 2017. That measure cuts taxes for corporations and some individuals but will raise taxes on many Californians.

“She didn’t stand up for her constituents and did exactly what Donald Trump told her to do. I will stand up to leaders in both parties,” Porter said.

Carl DeMaio, the San Diego radio talk show who is leading the Yes-on-Proposition 6 campaign, isn’t buying it, saying Monday that the union may have revoked its endorsement to give Porter “street cred on the gas tax repeal.”

“What she needs is their scorn right now,” said DeMaio, who supports Walters. “What you see with your own eyes is not actually is happening.”

Rocco Davis, who signed the letter pulling Porter’s endorsement, scoffed at DeMaio’s theory. He called road and bridge repairs funded by the gas tax a “public safety issue,” and said Porter’s support for Prop. 6 “is a direct shot at our members,” 20,000 of whom will be working on road projects. The laborers’ union has spent $3.4 million to defeat repeal, and intend to spend another $1.6 million.

“Our pulling the endorsement is absolutely real. Anybody who is Yes-on-6 is not a friend of the laborers’ union,” Davis said.

The decision to revoke the endorsement, he said, was the first he can recall in his 30 years with the laborers’ union. The California Labor Federation, the umbrella organization for labor in the state, did not withdraw its endorsement of Porter.

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

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