What Californians should look for on election night

Tonight’s California returns will be watched nationally for their potential impact on the makeup of Congress. Here at CALmatters, we’ll also be focused on major statewide decisions—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.

But there are key California indicators aplenty in this year’s election. Here are a few to watch for:

  • 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 any Democratic seats? Watch 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. 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.

Still trying to decide how to vote? Check out our award-winning CALmatters voter guide.

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