California Election 2018: Updates and Analysis
Radio debates, Twitter spats, and the political security that comes with belonging to the right party. Here’s a quick recap of what happened this week across California’s 53 congressional districts.
1. Insiders predict Hunter will win re-election—then have to resign
The race for California’s 50th congressional district is a test of the power of partisanship. Will voters here side with incumbent Rep. Duncan Hunter Jr., who is facing a 60-count federal indictment for allegedly spending a quarter of a million dollars of campaign cash on vacations, spa treatments, and—yes, as you’ve certainly already heard—cross-country airfare for a rabbit? Or will voters in this Trump-loving southern corner of the state do the unthinkable and actually vote in a Democrat?
According to political insiders around California, it’s best to bet on partisanship.
But these latest results from the California Target Book Insider Track Survey—a poll of consultants, lobbyists, and other operatives in California politics—don’t exactly offer a sunny prediction for Hunter either. The vast majority of respondents believe he’ll go on to win the district that was carried by President Trump over Hillary Clinton by 15 percentage points, only to resign amid mounting legal troubles. Still only 5 percent believe that his opponent, Ammar Campa-Najjar, actually has a shot at winning.
Public polling gives the Democrat better odds, but only slightly. FiveThirtyEight.com’s election forecast put the odds of Campa-Najjar flipping the seat blue between 11 and 13 percentage points.
Even so, some high profile Republicans are riding to Hunter’s rescue. Enter another MAGA-loving Jr., President Trump’s eldest and most Twitter-happy son:
California leftists really outdoing themselves with the crazy these days. CA Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar Defends Donation to Radical ‘Islamist’ Group CAIR | Breitbart https://t.co/8ZxFKpnkcK via @BreitbartNews #ca #capol
On Thursday, Donald Trump Jr. shared an article from the conservative website Breitbart reporting that the Campa-Najjar campaign had given money to a local chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and received an in-kind donation from the group. CAIR is the largest Muslim civil rights organization in the United States, but right-wing groups and Republican candidates, including Hunter and Florida gubernatorial hopeful Ron DeSantis, have tried to connect it to international extremist groups. Last month, the Hunter campaign produced a video highlighting his opponents’ grandfather’s involvement in a terrorist organization and labeling him a “security risk”—an ad widely denounced as deceptive and Islamophobic.
Although Campa-Najjar’s grandfather was a member of the Black September terrorist organization, Campa-Najjar has said he never met his grandfather and has repeatedly denounced him. Prior to running for Congress, he worked in the U.S. Department of Labor, a job for which he received a security clearance.
Thus, his response:
Hey @DonaldJTrumpJr, before retweeting @BreitbartNews charged allegations – might want to check with POTUS. I was given security clearance from the FBI in 2013 and met with @realDonaldTrump in 2015. Do you think your father met with a terrorist sympathizer? Doubt it.
2. McCarthy goes gaga for MAGA
Republican Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy from Bakersfield has been on President Trump’s good side since early on in the 2016 presidential campaign. But as election day approaches he’s not taking anything for granted with the president’s base among the congressional rank-and-file, whose votes McCarthy will need to succeed Speaker of the House Paul Ryan when he steps down at the end of this term.
As Politico reports, McCarthy is in full-pitch mode, introducing bills to fund the border wall and giving exclusive interviews with Breitbart. President Trump, for one, was successfully wooed by the man he calls “My Kevin,” sending out an “URGENT” fundraising pitch by email with the header: “House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy Introducing Bill to Fully Fund Border Wall, Making Midterm Immigration Referendum.”
It’s a new look for McCarthy, who has never been an immigration hardliner. But then again, as one White House official said, maybe this is just where the Republican Party is headed.
“I know a lot of people want to make it, ‘Oh, there’s a speakership election coming up and he’s just started tacking hard right’ … but honestly he’s been doing this since Trump went into office,” the former Trump official said. “I guess I look at it more as the obvious, natural progression of Republicans like McCarthy.”
3. The “bravery” of Devin Nunes
Of all of President Trump’s talents, few are as well-honed as his knack for trolling liberals.
That may very well have been his plan when he called into his favorite morning TV show Fox and Friends yesterday and suggested that Visalia Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, one of the president’s staunchest defenders in Congress and detested by Democrats everywhere, deserves the Medal of Freedom, the highest commendation that the federal government bestows upon a civilian.
“What he’s gone through and his bravery, he should get a very important medal,” the President said.
What Nunes has “gone through” includes the publication of a memo calling into question the validity of the federal investigation into the Trump presidential campaign’s with ties to Russia.
Trump initially suggested that Nunes should be given the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military award, before correcting himself.
4. Rumble in the 4th
Gubernatorial candidates John Cox and Gavin Newsom weren’t the only candidates to debate on Monday. Just an hour earlier on the same radio station, Republican Rep. Tom McClintock clashed with his Democratic contender Jessica Morse over who should represent the mountain district that stretches north of Lake Tahoe to south of Fresno.
Among the many topics covered:
- The state gas tax: McClintock was clear in his support for Proposition 6, the ballot measure that would repeal a recent increase in the state gas tax and other transportation fees. Morse equivocated, saying she would like to see the federal government provide more transportation funding, but that Prop. 6 was up to the voters.
- Justice Kavanaugh: McClintock said the accusations of sexual assault against Justice Kavanaugh amounted to slander but said that he wasn’t sure if the most high-profile accuser, Palo Alto professor Christine Blasey Ford, had committed perjury in her testimony before the Senate Judiciary committee. Morse said that Kavanaugh had demonstrated himself unfit to serve on the court by failing to remain “calm, even-minded, fair and nonpartisan” during the hearings. She then used the opportunity to bash McClintock for voting against the Violence Against Women Act.
- Ballot designation: In the run-up to the primary, one of Morse’s Democratic opponents successfully challenged the designation she had hoped to have printed on the ballot next to her name. This accompanied broader allegations that Morse, a 36-year-old former State Department employee, had inflated her resume. In the debate on Monday, McClintock amplified that line of attack: “Jessica, for the last three years, you bragged on a blog that you were leading a ‘vagabond life.’ Wondering why you didn’t put that on your ballot designation.” Morse responded: “We’ll get you a sense of humor after we send you home.”
- Federal tax legislation: McClintock, like Republican congressional candidates across the country, championed the economic benefits of the massive tax bill that Congress passed last year, saying that it was already creating jobs in the district. He also played down concerns that the legislation is projected to add $1.9 trillion to the federal debt over ten years. Morse argued that the bill disproportionately helped the rich and not the “real people” living in the district.
- Guns in schools: We don’t bat an eye when we see armed security guards in banks, McClintock said. What’s the big deal about arming teachers who receive the appropriate training? Morse contended that arming teachers would just increase the risk of violence. “I’ve have lived in a place where everyone is armed,” she said. “It’s called a war zone.”
You can listen to the entire debate here.
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.”