How President Trump helped Democrats flip California House seats

President Donald Trump is largely to blame for the GOP wipeout in California’s midterm election, two of the state’s most prominent pollsters said Monday. He’s so widely disliked in California that his Republican presidency motivated voters to help Democrats flip at least six House seats, which appears to have had the ripple effect of flipping about seven GOP seats in the state Legislature.

“As one of the most polarizing figures in modern U.S. politics, Trump really did set the table for the potential blue wave that eventually swept the state. He gave Democrats and the Democratic Party here an historic opportunity and they exploited it to the fullest,” said Mark DiCamillo, director of the UC Berkeley Institute for Governmental Studies poll.

He offered some numeric evidence to back up his conclusion. Before the election, DiCamillo conducted polls for the Los Angeles Times in eight contested House races, all represented by Republicans. In six of those districts, Trump’s approval rating was below 50 percent. Democrats flipped all six. In two districts—held by GOP Reps. Duncan Hunter and Devin Nunes—Trump’s approval rating was, respectively, 54 percent and 56 percent. Both Republican incumbents won re-election.

“There was this extremely strong correlation between how voters were rating the job that President Trump was doing as president and who they were supporting in their district for Congress,” DiCamillo said.

He compared Democratic successes in the Trump era to Republican wins under Democratic President Barack Obama, and said the GOP strategy to boost Republican turnout with Proposition 6—a ballot measure to repeal the gas-tax increase—“really didn’t pan out.” Nearly 57 percent of voters rejected the repeal, and Democrats have won six of the seven GOP House seats they targeted. The seventh, held by GOP Rep. David Valadao of Hanford, is still too close to call, with Democratic challenger TJ Cox of Fresno pulling to within less than 1,000 votes by the end of today.

Mark Baldassare, president of the Public Policy Institute of California, said Trump deserves “a lot, but not all” of the blame for Republican losses in California. The GOP has been in decline in the state for many years, and now makes up just one-quarter of registered voters. Republican House members also were hurt, Baldassare said, by votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act and pass the GOP tax bill, which raised taxes for many Californians by limiting the deductions they can take. Not to mention their party leader’s rhetoric on immigration.

“Almost any time that Donald Trump talks about immigration he’s offending a large number of people in California,” Baldassare said.

Altogether, he said, Trump created strong enthusiasm among Democrats that contributed to higher turnout and steep GOP losses.

The nonpartisan pollsters, who spoke today at the Sacramento Press Club, echoed conclusions similar to those expressed by Dave Gilliard, the Republican political consultant who was the strategist for several losing GOP candidates.

“I can say with complete certainty that Democrats would not have flipped a single GOP House seat in California this year if Trump was not in the White House,” Gilliard told CALmatters. “He was the reason the Dems were able to out-raise and outspend us by large margins and why they were able to blow past historical turnout averages.”

In a rare case of bipartisan agreement, a Democrat who worked on a campaign to flip several GOP House seats in California also pinned her success largely on the man in the White House. Nationwide, the president had low approval ratings in most districts that switched from red to blue, said Democratic consultant Katie Merrill.

“You’ve got a national political environment that is insane,” she said. “It was a vote against Trump.”

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