California Election 2018: Updates and Analysis
A Democrat turns on his own party’s committee. Fox News hosts turn on a sitting Republican congressman. A Trump son turns out to help a political ally—only to provide political fodder to the opposition.
Here’s a quick recap of what happened this week across California’s 53 congressional districts:
1. The Blue Wave meets the Orange Wall
California’s 39th congressional district is exactly the kind of political territory Democrats hope to conquer in November. Relatively affluent, well-educated, and ethnically diverse, this tri-county patch of suburban SoCal has been represented by Rep. Ed Royce since 1993, but went for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Now that Royce is out, it’s considered one of the state’s most competitive districts—the kind House majorities are made of.
But a new poll from Monmouth University suggests the Democratic candidate, Gil Cisneros, has his work cut out for him. Of the more than 400 voters surveyed, 46 percent favored the Republican candidate, Young Kim, while only 42 percent favored Cisneros, a U.S. Navy vet and lottery winner.
The numbers look worse for the Democrat when only likely voters were asked: Kim holds 51 percent of the vote, assuming turnout levels typical of a midterm, and is still up by 6 percentage points in a projected blue wave.
It’s not all bad news for Cisneros. As The Los Angeles Times reported, Kim’s lead is still within the survey’s statistical margin of error. Plus, more of the district’s voters than not disapprove of President Donald Trump and nearly 80 percent of respondents said they considered it important to vote this fall to send him a message.
Still, the poll was enough to prompt both California election tracker Around the Capitol and the FiveThirtyEight.com election forecast model to reclassify the race from “toss up” to “leans Republican.”
2. P.O.’d at the D.C.C.C.
Andrew Janz is a prosecutor who wants to bump Republican congressman and Trump loyalist Devin Nunes from his Central Valley seat (CA-22). The only problem? The Democratic party’s congressional organization won’t return his calls. As Politico explains, party committees only have so much money to spend, which “requires a form of political triage — making tough decisions about sidelining races that are deemed too far out of reach.“ Janz says he’s fine without their support, but he questions the organization’s “motives” and “competency.”
3. Claims against Kavanaugh Orwellian — GOP congressman
Sexual assault allegations against President Trump’s U.S. Supreme Court pick, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, have dominated political news all week, grinding what had been his pro forma confirmation to a halt. Last week, Palo Alto professor Christine Blasey Ford went public with her claim that Kavanaugh attempted to rape her while they were both teenagers.
But at least one Republican congressman isn’t taking the claim seriously. “High school? Give me a break,” Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (CA-48) said at a campaign event over the weekend. He likened the allegations to something written by George Orwell, the author of 1984. Audio of the event was published by the left-leaning political news site, TalkingPointsMemo.
Rohrabacher’s skeptism was echoed by the president in a tweet this morning:
I have no doubt that, if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents. I ask that she bring those filings forward so that we can learn date, time, and place!
4. Nunes gets frisky
Despite his undisputed advantage in his race against Andrew Janz, Rep. Devin Nunes isn’t taking any risks. According to the Fresno Bee, the congressman allegedly held an event in Sanger on Tuesday in which guests were required to provide their names and contact information, and agree to a potential pat down beforehand.
5. A visit from Trump the Younger
Of all the Republican candidates hoping to keep GOP-held seats, Diane Harkey may be in the most trouble. In June, a majority of voters supported Democratic candidates over Republicans in this coastal GOP enclave (CA-49). In her electoral battle against Democrat Mike Levin, Harkey needs all the help she can get.
Eric Trump, one of the nation’s First Sons, obliged this week, resulting in this photo:
It really was a packed house with @EricTrump yesterday! Lots of energy in the room to help us win in November!
The deputy research director at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee was only too happy to retweet.
6. Term of art
In July of last year, Democratic candidate Josh Harder (CA-10) was asked for his position on abortion. One man at the event put the question to the candidate: “So, pro-choice, full nine terms?” “Yes,” Harder responded, following up with “No exceptions.”
That’s a bold stance: a term being about nine months, nine terms would add up to just under seven years old. But assuming the questioner was asking about the legality of late-term abortion, Harder’s response would put him at odds with California law, reports the Modesto Bee.
The Harder team has since issued a statement saying that he “misunderstood the question” and that he supports the state standard.
7. Denham and Harder go shoulder to shoulder
Harder and his opponent, Republican Rep. Jeff Denham, offered dueling perspectives on trade, campaign cash, and, yes, abortion, in a recorded sit down with the Modesto Bee. You can watch the whole thing here.
Harder: “I’m running against somebody who talks a great game. Then he goes back to Washington and votes with his party 98 percent of the time.”
Denham: “I’ll put my record up against anybody. I work across the aisle.”
8. Et tu, Fox News?
As a young progressive Democrat running in one of California’s most blood-red districts, Ammar Campa-Najjar has a tough campaign ahead of him. But at least the campaign ads basically write themselves.
In a new attack ad against Rep. Duncan Hunter, who was recently indicted along with his wife for a litany of campaign finance violations, Campa-Najjar’s campaign simply strung together a series of clips from Fox News in which anchors alternately expressed dismay, disbelief, and disdain for the embattled congressional candidate.
9. A fond farewell
As the wealthiest member of Congress, Rep. Darrell Issa doesn’t need a new gig after he retires from Congress later this year, but he’s getting one anyway. This week it was announced that President Trump had nominated Issa to lead the United States Trade and Development Agency.
That prompted the following tweet from Kurt Bardella, a former spokesperson for Issa who was fired in 2011 for sharing information with a reporter:
That explains why @DarrellIssa has had his head so far up @realDonaldTrump ass … https://t.co/Fc6FHK2USl
10. Patriot or peddler
Local school district races don’t typically make national news, but this week, Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (CA-48) endorsed a candidate for the Ocean View School District board who the OC Weekly described as a “peddler of racist conspiracies.”
As Mother Jones reported, Rohrabacher shared the endorsement on Instagram describing the candidate, Gracey Larrea-Van Der Mark, as “a patriot.” Larrea-Van Der Mark was recently removed from two local government panels for referring to black protesters as “colored.” She has also hosted a video playlist on his YouTube channel called “Holocaust Hoax?” As noted in the article, neither Rohrabacher nor Larrea-Van Der Mark responded to requests for comment.
In an emailed press release, Rohrabacher’s opponent in the race, Harley Rouda, called the endorsement “(d)angerous and against everything our country stands for in the world.”
Proud to be supporting Gracey Van Der Mark for school board. She is a patriot and a parent who has great potential to make a difference for our children and our state.. and yes, our country. #ca48 #ovsd #oceanviewschooldistrict #huntingtonbeach
75 Likes, 8 Comments – Dana Rohrabacher (@surfdana) on Instagram: “Proud to be supporting Gracey Van Der Mark for school board. She is a patriot and a parent who has…”
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.”