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What Californians should look for tonight

Turnout is typically low in midterm elections, but this year isn't typical.

At CALmatters, we’ll be focused on the outcome of the race to succeed Gov. Jerry Brown, how U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein fares in her run for a fifth term, and what becomes of Proposition 6, the initiative to roll back the gasoline tax that has been paying for road and bridge repairs.

Beyond those, here’s what to watch:

  • Turnout. It’s usually low in midterm elections, especially among Democrats. Turnout in November 2014 set a new low at 42 percent. But this is the Trump era. Some California Democrats are talking 60 percent statewide. If turnout inches near 70 percent in swing congressional districts, Republicans will be sweating.
  • No-party preference. Former Republican Steve Poizner is running as an independent. If he defeats Democratic Sen. Ricardo Lara in the race for insurance commissioner, he could be the model for future former California Republicans.
  • The $50 million question. Will Democratic Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, backed by public school unions, become the next superintendent of public instruction, or will the winner of this high-dollar contest be Democrat Marshall Tuck, backed by wealthy charter public school advocates?
  • Orange County. The once-reliably red cradle of Richard Nixon voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. How its increasingly diverse electorate leans could be pivotal this year. Will Republican Reps. Dana Rohrabacher and Mimi Walters be returned to Congress? Will Democrat Josh Lowenthal win the Assembly seat held by Travis Allen, ex-gubernatorial candidate and GOP firebrand? 
  • #MeToo. Nearly one-third of the candidates running for state and federal office in California are women, the highest percentage in this century, thanks to factors ranging from Trump’s election and the Women’s Marches to the landslide of sexual harassment scandals in the workplace. How will that play out for the state?
  • How many seats will Assembly Republicans lose? Allen’s district isn’t the only one in play for the Legislature’s minority party. Will Democrat James Ramos pick up a seat held by outgoing Republican Marc Steinorth in the San Bernardino area? Watch Matthew Harper of Orange County, Brian Maienschein of San Diego County, and Catharine Baker of Contra Costa County.
  • Will Republicans flip Democratic seats held by Bakersfield Assemblyman Rudy Salas and Riverside Assemblywoman Sabrina Cervantes?
  • Can state Senate Democrats win a two-thirds majority? Watch Democrat Anna Caballero of Salinas vs. Madera County Supervisor Rob Poythress, a Republican, in a race to succeed a termed-out Republican.
  • Whither the mods? Moderate Democrats have held clout in the Assembly. Will they still? Watch perceived mod Susan Rubio against union-backed former Assemblyman Mike Eng in an $8.6 million San Gabriel Valley Senate race between two Dems.
  • How loudly will money speak? Congressman Doug LaMalfa of Richvale has one of the most Republican counties in California. Yet his challenger, Democrat Audrey Denney, raised $1 million and is airing ads blasting him. What impact will that have?

Pro tip: Don’t expect to know the outcome of close races for days, if not weeks, as our friends at Politico remind. There are 19.7 million registered voters in California. Somewhere around 11 million will cast votes. Mail-in ballots will still be arriving on Friday, and California vote counts are notoriously slow.

The election tally in dollars and cents

Independent expenditures like the one that paid for this ad are at record levels.

Spending on California state candidates and ballot measures will exceed $290 million and $416 million respectively in the 2017-18 election cycle, according to data compiled by the California Secretary of State in collaboration with the nonprofit organization Maplight.

  • It may seem to unprecedented but it’s not. Contributions to candidates reached $438 million 2009-10 campaign, the year billionaire Meg Whitman spent $150 million in her gubernatorial race, the Maplight-Secretary of State site shows. Two years ago, ballot measure spending hit $472 million.

One area in which spending is a record: Outside groups spent $143 million on independent campaigns to elect and defeat candidates and incumbents, up from the $83.4 million spent two years ago.

The CA policy that's saving women's lives

California has dramatically lowered the rate of women dying in childbirth.

California has deployed a state specialty—data—to buck a national rise in women dying in childbirth, The Washington Post reports.

  • Between 450,000 and 500,000 babies are born each year in California.The state’s effort between 2006 and 2013 not only lowered the maternal mortality rate by 55 percent during that period, but kept California in line with the developed world, where deaths from childbirth have been declining for three decades.

By the numbers: California had 7.3 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births in 2013. Nationally, that rate was 22. Statewide, 95 mothers died in childbirth in 2006; that number had fallen to 36 by 2013.

The Post: “California has made a difference in part by focusing narrowly on problems that arise during labor and delivery, using data collection to quickly identify deficiencies (such as failing to have the right supplies on hand or performing unnecessary Caesarean sections) and training nurses and doctors to overcome them.”

The trend also coincided with California’s health care expansion under the Affordable Care Act.

Stephanie Teleki, California Health Care Foundation: “This isn’t some weird California thing that can’t be replicated. This is doable in other states. It’s a matter of having the will and the funding to get it off the ground.”

Next steps: African American women in California still are three to four times more likely to die of complications from pregnancy than are white women. The state’s collaborative is working to close that gap.

Commentary at CALmatters

V. John White, Center For Energy Efficiency And Renewable Technologies: General Motors’ zero-emission vehicle proposal is greenwashing. GM should support Obama administration fuel economy standards and condemn Trump’s attack on state authority to expand ZEV programs.

Dan Walters, CALmatters: Top-of-the-ballot contests for governor and U.S. senator get most of the media attention—even if there’s little doubt about their outcomes—but California voters will also fill other statewide offices this week, and they are important in a state as large as California.

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See you tomorrow.