Photo illustration by John Osborn D'Agostino

California Election 2018: Updates and Analysis

California Election 2018: Updates and Analysis

A crowd of seated and standing California Republican delegates cheer and wave signs in a tented pavilion

California Republican delegates at the party convention in San Diego

The two leading Republican candidates for governor took the stage at the state party convention in San Diego this afternoon, touting their conservative credentials and seeking the party’s endorsement.

John Cox, a businessman from Chicago, and Travis Allen, an assemblyman from Huntington Beach, were given 12 minutes each to make a case to the packed crowd of party delegates—and to dish out the red meat.

Repealing California’s “sanctuary state” laws, slashing the recently increased gas tax and beating up on California’s governor were common threads for both candidates—and reliable applause lines.

“Raise your hand if you’re a California citizen!” Allen said as he hopped to the podium. “Raise your hand if it’s about time our government puts citizens first!”

Hands shot up. Cheers sounded across the tent pavilion.

Allen has made opposition to California’s sanctuary policy a hallmark of his campaign. He went on to call for lower taxes, looser gun regulations and more support for charter schools and home-schooling.

California Republican Party Chairman Jim Brulte threatened to cut short—with the blast of an airhorn—any candidate who used the speech to criticize a fellow Republican. Allen found a way to abide by the letter of that rule, if not its spirit.

“If you voted for Donald Trump, stand up!” he exhorted the audience. “While you’re standing think about this: there is only one candidate in the entire race who voted for, supported, even wrote op-eds in favor of…Donald Trump.”

Left unspoken (barely): Cox voted for Libertarian Gary Johnson.

Cox, for his part, trained most of his fire at the front-runner in the gubernatorial race, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and other California Democrats, who he said were driving the state off a “liberal cliff,” à la Thelma and Louise. “They’ve gone way over to the left, they’ve opened up the middle for us.”

Recent polls have put the businessman in second place, increasing the odds that he will make it past California’s top-two primary and onto the November general-election ballot, where he would have to compete for a broader electorate.

But in calling attention to his conservative credentials, Cox, who first ran for Congress in 2000 and has since made unsuccessful runs for Senate and president, offered a subtle dig at the younger Allen (he’s 44).

“We need a candidate with the experience and the maturity to tackle this important job,” said Cox, who is 62. “We need to make sure that we have a candidate at the top of the ticket who has a chance of winning.”

Under the party’s new process, candidates seeking the endorsement for a statewide office had to first round up the support of 200 delegates and five party board members. To secure the party’s imprimatur, a candidate needs to win at least 60 percent of the delegate vote tomorrow morning.

Along with Cox and Allen, four other Republicans spoke to delegates this afternoon. They include two candidates for attorney general, Steven Bailey and Eric Early, along with Cole Harris and Mark Meuser, the only Republican candidates who qualified for a possible endorsement in the race for lieutenant governor and secretary of state, respectively.

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With the California primary less than two weeks away, two new polls provide some clues to what voters are thinking. And while the state overall still looks true blue, the surveys do give Democrats a few reasons to worry.

Here are key takeaways:

Second spot in the top-two contest for governor is still uncertain

In a survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California, Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom maintained his consistent gubernatorial lead with support from one-in-four likely voters. No surprise there. But in the all-important race for second place, Republican John Cox beat out Antonio Villaraigosa, the Democratic former mayor of Los Angeles, 19 to 15 percent.

That bodes well for Cox, the conservative businessman who will need to snag one of the top two spots to advance to the general election ballot. It’s also good news for the entire Republican Party:  Two Democrats at the top of the ticket would likely depress Republican turnout. And almost all the surveying was done before President Trump tweeted his endorsement of Cox last Friday, so a potential “Trump bump” isn’t even captured in polling yet.

Team Villaraigosa got some better news yesterday from a USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll, which put him in the second spot. Barely.

Though they are competing for the same position on the ballot, Cox and Villaraigosa are courting different segments of the electorate. Cox needs to consolidate Republican voters, which the Trump endorsement was designed to aid.

Meanwhile, the Villaraigosa campaign is counting on higher than average turnout from Latinos and voters in Los Angeles. The PPIC poll shows that 39 percent of Latinos and 29 percent of L.A. likely voters support Villaraigosa. The results from USC are a little more discouraging for the former mayor: 23 percent and 18 percent, respectively.

“It’s a race between Cox’s Trump endorsement—which will hurt him in the fall tremendously—and Villaraigosa’s demographic advantages if he can actualize them,” said Bob Shrum, director of the USC’s Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics.

The big “blue wave” may have hit the doldrums

For Democrats there’s good news and bad news.

First, the good. When likely voters were asked whether they would prefer to vote for a Democrat or a Republican in the upcoming Congressional elections, voters overwhelmingly tilted blue.

Better yet, according to the USC poll, a majority of California likely voters said they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act (57 percent to 28 percent) or supported the recent federal tax legislation (52 percent to 21 percent).

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is actively targeting seven Republican-held congressional districts this year. These are prime opportunities for the party, which only needs to flip 23 seats nationwide to retake control of the House of Representatives in the fall.

Which brings us to the bad news. When the PPIC poll broke out the likely voters who live in the 10 most competitive congressional districts which party they would favor for Congress, 61 percent opted for Republicans, while only 32 percent tilted Democrat. That’s a 29 percentage point gap that any blue wave is going to have to breach.

“The Democrats have their work cut out for them,” said PPIC president Mark Baldassare. “These are districts where they’re going to have to have a message other than ‘Donald Trump.’”

For Senate, Democrats like Feinstein and Republicans are despondent

In her race for a fifth term, Sen. Dianne Feinstein enjoys a massive lead over her chief opponent, state Sen. Kevin de León. The remaining 30 candidates on the ballot barely registered in either survey.

Despite an upset at this February’s state Democratic Party convention, where the party faithful failed to endorse Feinstein, surveyed Democrats were over three times more likely to back her than her progressive opponent, according to the PPIC poll. The magnitude was about the same in the USC survey.

Both polls show that roughly 40 percent of likely voters are still undecided in that race. Most are Republicans, a majority of whom say they are not satisfied with their choices. At the California GOP convention earlier this month, no one was even nominated for an endorsement. One candidate, a Holocaust denier who claims to be a Republican, was booted from the premises.

Different polls, different results

One of the most notable differences between the USC and PPIC polls is in the number of reported undecided voters in the governor’s race. The former suggests that more than one-in-three California voters have yet to make up their mind. The latter puts the share at 15 percent.

The difference probably boils down to methodology.

Whereas the PPIC poll offers only six options for governor candidates (plus “other” or “undecided”), the USC survey includes each of the 27 candidates who will be on the ballot. A list of that many names, most of them unknown to the average voter, has a way of eliciting a shrug from most survey respondents, says Jill Darling, survey director for the USC poll.

“It’s an overwhelming ballot,” she said. “I voted and it took me a while.”

Another difference is survey duration. Whereas the PPIC team collected their data in 10 days, pollsters at USC were surveying for a month, starting in mid-April. If it’s surprising that so many California voters are undecided two weeks out from election day, six weeks out is less so.

That long polling period wasn’t by design. Darling’s explanation: “To get a large sample requires a bit of time.”

Still, it’s an “awkward” way of gauging voter sentiment, said Paul Mitchell, a data analyst and vice president of Political Data Inc.

Polls are supposed to provide a “snapshot in time” of what the public thinks, he said. “This is more like one of those old-timey photographs where you have to stand still for a month.”

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Election 2018

May 21, 2018 4:32 pm

In race to unseat attorney general, why rival Dave Jones says Becerra doesn’t belong in this courtroom

Political Reporter
Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, a Democrat, is a candidate for California Attorney General. Photo by Laurel Rosenhall/CALmatters
Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, a Democrat, is a candidate for California Attorney General. Photo by Laurel Rosenhall/CALmatters

Democratic Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones is in a tough spot in his campaign to become California’s next attorney general: His opponents include a fellow Democrat who enjoys the power of incumbency with the governor’s seal-of-approval, and a Republican who’s been endorsed by the state GOP.

Only two candidates running in the June 5 primary will advance to the general election, and under California’s election rules their party doesn’t matter. They just have to come in first or second place.

That’s the backdrop for a press conference Jones held today to accuse his Democratic opponent, Attorney General Xavier Becerra, of violating “the very law he is sworn to uphold.”

How? By filming campaign commercials inside a courthouse.

Jones contends the commercials violate a state law that prohibits government officials from using “public resources” in their political campaigns. He called on Becerra to pull the commercials off the air and appoint a special investigator to look into his claims.

Becerra’s spokesman said he would not stop running the ads, and his campaign manager lashed back by calling Jones’ attack “a desperate attempt to bring attention to himself.”

“The campaign applied for and obtained a permit from the California Film Commission to film at the courthouse by going through the same legal process that is available to everyone. (The law Jones cited) does not apply where a candidate uses a public forum that is available to anyone else on the same terms,” said a statement from Stephen J. Kaufman, Becerra’s campaign attorney, who called the claim “baseless.”

Regardless of whether it was a serious allegation or a publicity stunt, the announcement gave Jones a platform to highlight his own experience as a lawyer—and to point out that Becerra has spent more time in politics than in the legal trenches. Becerra, a 12-term congressman from Los Angeles, was appointed attorney general in 2016 by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown after then-Attorney General Kamala Harris was elected to the U.S. Senate.

“These campaign ads are an attempt to fill huge gaps in Mr. Becerra’s legal career by showing him in a courtroom,” Jones said of the ads that show scenes inside the historic Sacramento courthouse where the state Supreme Court sometimes meets.

“So Mr. Becerra takes one of the most well-known courtrooms in the state of California as a film set to show him in courtroom. How did I recognize that he used the Supreme Court courtroom for this film set for his commercial? Well, I’ve argued at least one appeal in this courtroom as a lawyer. And more recently I appeared as a litigant, as the insurance commissioner… So I’m very familiar with this courtroom.”

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Election 2018

May 18, 2018 4:49 pm

President Trump endorses John Cox for governor—hoping to keep Congress in Republican hands

Election Reporter
Republican gubernatorial candidate John Cox, photo by Judy Lin for CALmatters
Republican gubernatorial candidate John Cox, photo by Judy Lin for CALmatters

Republican Assemblyman Travis Allen has raised nearly $1.2 million in his race to become California’s next governor and sold himself as a Forever-Trumper who will “make California great again.”

With a 273-character, President Donald Trump may have just dashed Allen’s hopes—and complicated the path Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa has to become one of two finalists who will advance from the June primary onto the November ballot.

Donald J. Trump on Twitter

California finally deserves a great Governor, one who understands borders, crime and lowering taxes. John Cox is the man – he’ll be the best Governor you’ve ever had. I fully endorse John Cox for Governor and look forward to working with him to Make California Great Again!

President Trump’s endorsement of San Diego-area businessman John Cox is designed to help unite a fractured party base around a single candidate leading up to the June 5 primary, making a general election showdown with Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom much more likely. Trump and California’s congressional Republicans want to ensure that California Republicans have a top-of-the-ticket reason to turn out in November—if they don’t, it could cost the party some key congressional districts, and ultimately, hand over control of the House of Representatives to the Democrats.

Nonetheless, Republican unity wasn’t much in evidence as Allen and his conservatives backers railed against the endorsement—awarded despite the fact that Cox acknowledges he voted for a Libertarian candidate against Trump in the 2016 general election. (Cox now says he was wrong not to back Trump and praises his performance in the White House.) Speaking to reporters late Friday, Allen

Under California law, only the first and second place winners in the primary will advance to the general election ballot. Recent polls show Newsom well ahead of the rest of the pack, with Cox narrowly holding onto second place. Nearly one-in-five voters remain undecided.

At a debate earlier this month, Newsom was asked which candidate he would prefer to face in the general election. “A Republican would be ideal,” he said. It now looks a bit more likely that he’ll get his wish.

Gavin Newsom on Twitter

My opponent, @TheRealJohnHCox has been endorsed by his hero, Donald Trump. More important than ever that CA stands up for our values and stands against Trump, his protégé, and their attempts to drag our state backwards. Find out where and how to vote at: https://t.co/ERUeZPk9K0 https://t.co/20WyHpE7cV

Trump isn’t exactly known for rewarding people who haven’t been loyal to him, but his endorsement of Cox follows that of many Republican members of the Congress from California, including House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield—a Trump confidant the president refers to as “my Kevin.” Earlier this month, the California Republican Party failed to endorse either Cox or Allen at their annual convention in San Diego.

The question now is whether a presidential tweet can do what roughly 1,000 GOP delegates couldn’t. Despite low approval numbers statewide, 84 percent of Republican likely voters approve of the President, according to a recent poll by the Public Policy Institute of California. If the majority follow the president’s endorsement, that is almost certain to propel Cox to one of the top two spots in the primary.

“I am honored and deeply grateful to my President and I am looking forward to working with him to make California great again,” Cox said in a statement.

On a conference call tonight, Allen told his supporters to “remember what God told Gideon”—evoking the Biblical story in which God helps Israelites defeat foes not “by the hand of man” but by divine intervention. “We do not have the hand of man with us,” he said. “We have the Republican establishment firmly against us!”

The new dynamic in the race is likely to prompt Villaraigosa, the former mayor of Los Angeles, and his backers develop a counter-strategy to undercut Cox. Thus far Villaraigosa has raised over $10 million in campaign dollars—but his mega-wealthy donors like Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and Los Angeles developer Eli Broad have poured nearly $20 million to support his quest for a top-two spot.

Treasurer John Chiang, the former superintendent of public instruction, Delaine Eastin, and over 20 other candidates are all also hoping to become governor.

Many Allen supporters, including a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, took to Twitter to vent:

Learn more about John Cox in our CALmatters voter guide. Here’s a glimpse:

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