Party label still matters in California primaries, even when the top two vote-getters advance to the November general election, regardless of party.
And California could still play a starring role in a “blue wave” to flip the U.S. House to Democrats.
Those are two early storylines from Tuesday’s primary, in which many dramatic predictions failed to materialize.
Though Democrats have surged to 44 percent of registered voters statewide, while Republicans (25 percent) are now outnumbered by no-party preference voters, a Republican will be on the November ballot for most statewide offices.
In the governor’s race, Republican businessman John Cox snagged the second slot behind Democratic frontrunner Gavin Newsom, the current lieutenant governor and former mayor of San Francisco. Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa finished a distant third, showing that Latinos’ political power still doesn’t match their share of the population.
While he’s very unlikely to win, having Cox at the top of the ticket will help boost GOP turnout in November. The bigger driver, however, may be a ballot measure to repeal the 12-cent state gas tax increase. On Tuesday, the GOP used it to recall state Sen. Josh Newman, which cost Democrats their two-thirds supermajority.
In two other statewide races, it does appear two Democrats will face off in November. U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein will take on former state Senate leader Kevin de León. And Sacramento developer Eleni Kounalakis will go up against state Sen. Ed Hernandez for lieutenant governor. The only other time this happened was the 2016 U.S. Senate race won by Kamala Harris.
There is one other notable exception to the traditional Democrat versus Republican contest: Steve Poizner, running for insurance commissioner, is trying to become the first to win statewide office as an independent.
Democrats also focused on seven California congressional districts, which are held now by Republicans but which Hillary Clinton won in 2016. Without flipping at least some of these districts, Democrats have little hope of winning the 23 additional seats they need to retake control of the U.S. House in November.
Anti-Trump fervor led to a flood of candidates, and advocacy groups backed different contenders. Despite fears that Democrats would splinter the vote and get locked out, it appears that a Democrat made the top two in all seven targeted districts, though final results could put Republican Ted Howze up against GOP Rep. Jeff Denham of Turlock.
The bottom line: While neither Democrats nor Republicans got all they wanted on Tuesday, California’s general election will be consequential – and competitive.