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California Election 2018: Updates and Analysis

California Election 2018: Updates and Analysis

June 1, 2018

GOP now at number 3

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.”

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. 12, 2018 2:50 pm

A Californian on the 2020 presidential ticket? Here’s what state insiders say

Editorial Intern
Sen. Kamala Harris at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing for the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018.

The latest conventional wisdom among state political insiders: There’s a good chance a Californian will be on the presidential ticket in 2020, and that Californian is likely to be Democratic U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris.

Among participants in a new Target Book Insider Track survey, 55 percent say it is somewhat or very likely that a Californian makes the 2020 ticket, either for president or vice president. The survey—our attempt to put some real data behind the anecdotal estimations of conventional wisdom—is based on 34 respondents who are Target Book subscribers, an assortment of politicos, lobbyists and consultants.

When asked whom they had in mind, the overwhelming favorite was Harris, with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti a distant second.

Garcetti has already made several stops to South Carolina, an important state in the primaries behind Iowa and New Hampshire.

But Harris is set to visit the state next week, according to The Post and Courier. The rookie senator has also made stops in Ohio over the weekend and was greeted by fellow Democrats as a rock star. Although she has been consistently saying she’s focused on the midterms as she campaigns for Democratic candidates across the country, she also went further than before in acknowledging her interest in 2020.

“I’m thinking about ’18 and what we need to do around these races, and then I’ll seriously take a look at things after that. But right now I’m focused on this,” she told reporters.

Harris, a former prosecutor and California’s attorney general, is the first Indian American senator and California’s first black senator. She firmly stood behind Christine Blasey Ford, Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s first public accuser, and drew headlines for her tough questioning of him during the confirmation hearing that addressed alleged sexual assault.

There hasn’t been a sitting mayor who transitioned straight to the White House, but Garcetti, who like Harris has been glowingly profiled in Vogue, has been quietly working the national circuit with visits to Iowa and New Hampshire. During these trips he would frequently introduce himself with the line: “”I come from Los Angeles, and we have a few more Kardashians than you do, but we are mostly not Kardashians,” according to a GQ profile.

For now, many national experts place Harris among the wide top tier of potential Democratic presidential contenders, behind Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden. But she hasn’t given sufficient clues to determine her aim in the view of FiveThirtyEight, which places Harris behind Garcetti in a rubric of actions made by past candidates that signaled their intent to run.

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. 12, 2018 11:04 am

Video: Newsom and Cox reveal how they would run California differently than Gov. Brown

Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and Republican businessman John Cox are in a match-up to replace outgoing California Gov. Jerry Brown.
Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and Republican businessman John Cox are in a match-up to replace outgoing California Gov. Jerry Brown.

California will soon be in the hands of a new governor, and voters have less than a month to make their choice. In this video, watch Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and Republican businessman John Cox explain how they would do things differently once Gov. Jerry Brown exits—and see both candidates talk about whether they would continue the state’s aggressive climate policies, how they would tackle the state housing crisis, their views on public education and whether they would carry out state executions.

You’ll also learn what book they recommend all Californians read, and what each candidate says is the hardest thing he’s ever done.

All in about 8 minutes.

To dive deeper into where both candidates stand on dozens of issues, try the side-by-side comparison tool in our voter guide.

We also provide you with full background on John Cox and Gavin Newsom.

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. 12, 2018 8:35 am

Majority Report: “Do you think your father met with a terrorist sympathizer?” edition

Election Reporter
Ammar Campa-Najjar stands beside President Donald Trump
Ammar Campa-Najjar stands beside President Donald Trump. According to Campa-Najjar, the photo was taken in 2015.

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.’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:

Donald Trump Jr. on Twitter

California leftists really outdoing themselves with the crazy these days. CA Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar Defends Donation to Radical ‘Islamist’ Group CAIR | Breitbart 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:

Ammar Campa-Najjar on Twitter

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.

Learn more about the most competitive congressional races and just about everything on the state ballot with 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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