Dan Walters

Californians see rare presidential campaign, audition for the fall

Well, it was fun while it lasted.

For the first time in decades – perhaps longer than lives of most voters – Californians were treated, or subjected, to a full-blown presidential campaign that was, in many respects, just a tuneup for a fall campaign of personal invective.

While Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders campaigned furiously up and down the state, she often ignored Sanders to test themes she hopes to use against Donald Trump, the bombastic billionaire who, much to the chagrin of many Republicans, has clinched the GOP nomination.

Despite that, Trump also campaigned heavily in a state he has no chance of winning in November, maintaining his visage in the national media as he tried out his anti-Clinton messages.

Beyond that aspect, the recent hoopla’s greatest effect may have been to spark a surge in voter registration and perhaps in voting that could reverberate in down-ballot contests, especially those for legislative and congressional seats.

It could be days, or even weeks, before final results in California are known. An Associated Press tally late Monday put her over the top in delegates nationwide, but she’s not claiming victory.

Were she to lose here, the effect could merely be embarrassment and perhaps encouragement for Sanders to continue his improbable campaign into the convention.

Back to that voter registration surge. It’s 17.9 million for the June primary, up 761,354 since the last presidential year primary in 2012, although registration as a percentage of the eligible voter pool (18 and older citizens) is virtually identical at 72.29 percent.

Continuing their slide in California, Republicans, at 27.3 percent, are nearly three full percentage points lower than they were four years ago, while Democrats gained 1.4 points to 44.8 percent. Voters with no party preference continued to climb and at 23.3 percent could surpass Republicans in a few more years.

The number that counts, however, is how many of those voters actually cast ballots, and that could be skewed even more toward Democrats because of the high-profile Clinton-Sanders duel and the personal antipathy that many Republicans harbor toward Trump.

Based on its recent voter surveys, the Field Poll projects a 44.7 percent turnout, a sharp increase from 31.1 percent in 2012, but still markedly lower than 57.7 percent in 2008. Field also projects that over 60 percent of this week’s votes will be cast by mail.

A heavy Democratic turnout could affect dozens of legislative contests, particularly where rival Democrats are vying for position in the top-two primary system, some backed by unions and other liberal groups, others by business.

A high Democratic turnout, too, would doom the extremely faint hopes of Republicans to secure a place on the November ballot for a U.S. Senate seat.

With 34 candidates on the Senate ballot, pre-election polling has found that Democrats Kamala Harris and Loretta Sanchez are most likely to face each other as the top-two system affects a statewide contest for the first time.

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