Since the beginning of the year, news watchers have been subjected to endless speculation about whether this November will be a “blue wave” election, sweeping Democrats into office and pushing out Republican supplicants of President Donald Trump.
California plays a big role in that speculation. Seven GOP members of Congress represent districts that Trump lost in 2016 to Democrat Hillary Clinton. Those seats have become the intense focus of early campaign dollars and media scrutiny.
So what of the rest of California elections this November? Here are a few things to keep an eye on that aren’t necessarily garnering a lot of attention but are very important to how California may be governed in the years ahead.
The races for statewide offices are absent a Republican who can be realistically competitive. This sad reality for Republicans is largely a matter of math. The GOP has now fallen to third in voter registration behind Democrats and “no party preference.”
Therefore, there is increasing interest in the sleepy race for insurance commissioner between Democratic state Sen. Ricardo Lara and former commissioner Steve Poizner, a former Republican who left the office in 2010 when he sought the GOP nomination for governor against Meg Whitman.
Now, Poizner is back and this time has joined the ranks of “no party preference” voters to run as an independent. He represents the best opportunity to elect a statewide official who is not a Democrat and would validate a new path for centrist and center-right statewide candidates in the future: Run as an independent.
Another intriguing statewide race is for the U.S. Senate, where the generational and ideological divide among Democrats is playing out. State Sen. Kevin de León is challenging Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the lioness of the U.S. Senate.
De León is woefully underfunded and far behind in the polls. In fact, he could end up losing by an even greater margin than the polls show. Consistently, about 25 percent of GOP voters in public polls support de León because they are reflexively conditioned to vote against their longtime foe, Feinstein.
But if those voters are simply told during the course of the campaign that de León is to Feinstein’s left, he’s likely to lose another 8 to 10 percentage points. A landslide Feinstein victory would provide some comfort to institutional Democrats in California who fear progressive challenges in 2020 and beyond.
In the state Legislature, the election map is all about whether Democrats will win a two-thirds majority in either the Assembly or Senate, or both. This “supermajority” is what is required for Democrats to raise taxes on party-line votes. And it is the big prize at stake given the multitude of tax increases and big spending programs favored by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the odds-on favorite to defeat Republican John Cox for governor on Nov. 6.
Democrats currently have a supermajority in the Assembly and are positioned to add to their margin, although the GOP could certainly take out a few Democratic incumbents to make up for some losses and fight the Democrats to a draw.
In the Senate, the recall of Sen. Josh Newman in June has deprived the Democrats of their supermajority. That puts the focus on the Republican seat in a Central California district that stretches from Salinas to Fresno and Ceres to Coalinga. Voters there will be at ground zero and subject to millions of dollars in campaign spending between supporters of Democrat Anna Caballero and backers of Republican Rob Poythress.
Will it be a blue wave? Hard to say. Democrats certainly have the traditional advantages an out-of-power party has in a midterm election. But California is not monolithic, it is diverse and nuanced, and President Trump is popular in many regions.
There’s definitely a lot at stake. Keep informed and please vote.
Rob Stutzman is a Republican consultant, founder and president of Stutzman Public Affairs and a participant in The Sacramento Bee/McClatchy Influencers series. He can be contacted at email@example.com. Find the series at sacbee.com/influencers.