Capitol Alert

Will Latinos vote in ‘18? + Why John Chiang loves S.F. + KDL starts on DiFi over DACA

Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles), center at podium, holds a news conference in support of the DREAM Act.
Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles), center at podium, holds a news conference in support of the DREAM Act. AP

Welcome. Welcome. Welcome.

We are officially in an election year with much intrigue. Before turning to the events of the day, here are a few burning questions we have in 2018:

Will Latinos turn out for Antonio and Kevin? The state’s two premier races for governor and U.S. Senate feature Latino candidates at the top of the ticket: Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León.

Public polls show Villaraigosa consolidating Latino support, including 40 percent favoring him in the latest survey out of UC Berkeley. In that poll, De León leads U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein among Latinos, too.

While President Donald Trump wasn’t on the ballot in any of the states where Democrats excelled of late – including Virginia, New Jersey and Alabama – the voting bloc that for years was considered a “sleeping giant” in California helped propel Democrats to victories last year.

Will John Chiang wake from his slumber? There’s a reason the Democratic state treasurer and dark horse candidate for governor has been trying out his lines of attack on frontrunner Gavin Newsom rather than Villaraigosa. He wants to vault into the top two spots in the June primary, places that polls show are now occupied by Newson and Villaraigosa.

Chiang needs to cut into Newsom’s lead. One place he’s looking is the Bay Area, where Newsom has a commanding advantage: 55 percent to Villaraigosa’s 6 percent to Chiang’s 1 percent.

That helps explain Chiang’s early critiques, including the charge that San Francisco is a poorly managed city. It’s a twofer, because not only are some current San Franciscans upset about the lack of affordable housing, high traffic and homelessness and surplus of tech bros, but the city is also resented by outsiders who view it as the cradle of inequality in the Golden State.

Chiang’s own campaign says its polling shows him doing better than the public surveys, but still running a couple points behind Villaraigosa. Chiang, who has more money, will have to jump Villaraigosa one way or another – meaning the final few months of the campaign could come down to the treasurer’s fuller coffers versus the former mayor’s notoriety.

How hard will KDL come after DiFi? It won’t be difficult for de León to criticize Feinstein, who has not shied away from sacrificing liberal positions at the altar of political pragmatism. (Back in 1990, Feinstein antagonized Democratic Party activists in 1990 when she flaunted her support for capital punishment.)

Looking at the upcoming Senate race, take immigration.

In 1994, the senator accused her Republican opponent, Michael Huffington, of voting against new border guards while she touted her own record of leading the fight to stop illegal immigration. In her TV ad, she showed what were presumably illegal immigrants streaming over the U.S.-Mexico border.

De León, the author of California’s new “sanctuary state” bill, has already accused his opponent of “talking a good game on Dreamers,” but he added at a recent event in L.A. that “when it comes to standing up and supporting them, she is AWOL.”

When Feinstein ultimately clarified that she wouldn’t back a stopgap spending measure to keep the government open without it including protections for young immigrants facing deportation, de León took full credit.

“With one statement from our campaign, along with actions from community allies, we were able to move a senator,” he said in a late Friday fundraising plea. “Can you imagine if we were a vote and voice in the chamber?”

Et tu, Brulte? Before anyone can do any real handicapping in either the governor or Senate races, we’re going to need to know what the final candidate fields look like.

Republican former Rep. Doug Ose tells us he’s seriously considering jumping into the gubernatorial contest.

But then, what happens?

Does Republican Assemblyman Travis Allen, an outspoken Orange County conservative and big Trump supporter, slide into the Senate race?

Republican John Cox has been running for office for years with little to show for his efforts.

Ultimately, pressure will fall on state Republican Party Chairman Jim Brulte to sort things out, something he’s been reluctant to do in recent years.

Otherwise, the shrinking GOP – led by a shrinking cadre of House members – could be looking at two top-of-the-ticket fall contests that lack Republican challengers.

Will Donald Trump visit us (ever)?

President Trump has yet to set foot in California, which probably is fine by the Republican House members like Darrell Issa, Mimi Walters and Jeff Denham. They are trying to hang on to seats in districts where Trump lost to Hillary Clinton.

As noted last week on Twitter by Bill Whalen, the Hoover Institution fellow with an eye for the esoteric, former President George W. Bush never visited San Francisco as president (not that many there cared). Whalen mused: “Is this the next step in political evolution?”

Will House balance tip Harris and Garcetti?

If Democrats win back the House next fall, look for Sen. Kamala Harris and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti to start making real 2020 moves. Also, does Tom Steyer finally run for something? Would Nancy Pelosi finally bite on his impeachment gambit that millions of liberals are pining for?

Are so-called “mods” self-destructing? The Assembly’s bloc of moderate Democrats, politicians who show more sympathy to the priorities of business over environmental and other progressive efforts, has been hit hard of late.

Assemblymen Raul Bocanegra and Matt Dababneh were chased out of office by sexual harassment allegations. Assemblyman Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, the 30-year-old scion of political royalty in Los Angeles, cited failing health as his reason for quitting last week.

While some commentators have focused on the short-term loss of the Democratic super majority, they’re missing a bigger trend here. The moves may actually help Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon in the long run, and here’s how.

The super majority hasn’t really been for the ruling party all it’s cracked up to be.

That’s because all Democrats don’t vote in lockstep. The moderates, and their hesitance to embrace landmark environmental legislation, are one example. But if Rendon and the caucus decides to get behind three traditionally liberal Democrats for the seats of their departing colleagues, they would be making a decent dent in the influence of the business friendly group.

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago