Capitol Alert

Democrats try to make a blue wave out of a ripple

Agitated town hall crowd screams at Rep. Jeff Denham: 'Yes or no!'

Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, confronts an agitated crowd at a town hall meeting in Denair on April 17, 2017. Crowd members demanded he say if he believes climate change is man made.
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Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, confronts an agitated crowd at a town hall meeting in Denair on April 17, 2017. Crowd members demanded he say if he believes climate change is man made.

Like every 2018 primary election before, California's vote on Tuesday is now being interpreted as a barometer of the Trump Resistance.

The outstanding question, on a national level, is whether the state's heavily anti-Trump electorate is energized enough to help fuel a "blue wave" that sweeps Republicans out of the House majority. With state officials still processing votes by mail — an increasing proportion of the California's ballots — the picture remains hazy. But there are some warning signs for both parties.

Democrats tend to benefit when voter turnout increases, and the party is counting on people who tend to vote infrequently, i.e. "low-propensity voters," to turn out this year in a show of anger against the president and his party. In particular, the party needs millennial voters and Latinos to show up at the polls in November if they hope to oust targeted Republicans.

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton won seven GOP-held districts in the 2016 election with the help of those kinds of voters, but they don't tend to show up in the same numbers in midterm elections, when there's no president at the top of the ticket. Party operatives don't expect 2018 to match 2016 in terms of turnout, but need the electorate to look more like a presidential year than a typical midterm.

With fears that California's top-two primary system would leave Democrats out of the general election in some competitive House districts, the party and allied groups spent millions on advertising and voter outreach just to nudge their candidates into second place on Tuesday. Early turnout figures indicate those efforts helped Democratic candidates draw significantly more voters than they did during the last midterm primary, in 2014, and the picture is likely to improve as the final votes are counted.

Democrats feel particularly good about results in the 49th district, which encompasses parts of San Diego and Orange Counties. Four Democrats managed to draw more votes there, total, than the eight Republicans running in the traditionally GOP district. The Republican incumbent, Darrell Issa, is retiring from Congress after nine terms.

Democrats have also closed Republicans' vote advantage in five of the other so-called "Clinton districts," when compared to 2014. The exception: Republican Rep. David Valadao's Fresno-area district.

Increases to California's gas tax were approved in 2017 and will continue for years.

The question is whether it will be enough. The party won't come close to the turnout figures for the 2016 primary, when the Democratic vote in some districts more than doubled.

Republicans, meanwhile, are counting on a ballot initiative to repeal the state's gas tax increase, passed last year, to drive up GOP turnout. "That's going to be a huge motivator down in Orange County," National Republican Congressional Committee Communications Director Matt Gorman predicted on Fox News.

It all suggests Democrats still have work to do over the next six months if they want to turn a blue ripple into a wave.

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WORTH REPEATING: "None of this shakes my faith in California or in the fundamental capacity of politics to serve as a platform for doing good and for serving people. It’s been an honor and a privilege to represent the people and cities of the 29th Senate District. I’m immensely grateful for the energy, inspiration, and support of so many truly wonderful people and organizations." – Exit remarks from Sen. Josh Newman, D-Fullerton, who was recalled from office Tuesday and replaced by Republican Ling Ling Chang

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