The 2018 Primary – First Look at Voter Turnout

Tony Quinn
Editor, California Target Book

What if they gave a revolution and nobody came? That seems to be the case in this first election of the Trump era in California. For all the supposed anti-Trump energy in this state, the voters are showing no sign of rushing to the polls to register their opposition; in fact, this is turning out to be the sleepiest election in California in years.

The only question in the governor’s race is whether Gavin Newsom will succeed in getting an unknown Republican named John Cox as his November opponent instead of another Democrat. If Newsom is successful, and that’s what it looks like right now, his election as governor is assured and he can spend the fall campaigning around the country for a place on the 2020 Democratic ticket.

The US Senate race has been the biggest yawner since the re-election of GOP Sen. William F. Knowland in 1952. The challenge to Sen. Dianne Feinstein from the left has fizzled; and the best known of the Republican candidates against her is a neo-Nazi Holocaust denier named Patrick Little who was thrown out of the recent GOP state convention.

Election Day in California now Election Month with our heavy vote by mail. Fortunately, it is possible to look at that vote as it unfolds thanks to the very helpful daily absentee vote tracker provided by election expert Paul Mitchell and Political Data Inc. As of today, nearly 800,000 primary election ballots have been received at the counties. The early vote breakdown of the ballots is consistent with off presidential year primary elections: heavily white (72 percent), older, more conservative (seven points more Republican than their state registration), and with minorities trailing. Only 15 percent of the early vote is Latino; 11 percent is Asian.

This will not be the final make up of the primary electorate at all; the Republican percentage will drop as Democrats vote late, and minority/young voter numbers will rise. But by how much? With less than two weeks until the primary, the supposed anti-Trump surge in voters simply has not happened – yet.

The real battle this primary season is at the congressional level. Democrats have well funded assaults on the seven GOP-held congressional districts that Hillary Clinton won in 2016. Democrats probably need to win most of these seats in order to take control of the House of Representatives in November and make Nancy Pelosi House Speaker once again.

The results are mixed in the early vote. Republicans are running well ahead of their party registration in six of the seven districts, and there is a very real possibility that no Democrat will make the top two runoff in one or two of these districts.

Four of the seven districts are in Orange and San Diego counties. In the coastal 48th district, two strong Republicans are competing, incumbent Rep. Dana Rohrabacher and former GOP Assemblyman Scott Baugh. The Democratic side is badly split with several strong candidates.

Democrats early on realized what is at stake; they have spent more than $1 million so far on attack ads against Scott Baugh to keep him from making the runoff; admitting in the process that incumbent Rohrabacher is sure of one run off spot, they just want to make certain a Democrat makes the second.

But thus far turnout in the district looks good for Republicans, with 46 percent of returned ballots so far being Republican, just 35 percent Democratic. However, the overall numbers are very low and there is plenty of time for Democrats to increase their turnout.

There is somewhat the same story in the nearby 39th district being vacated by returning GOP Rep. Ed Royce. Democrats have had a bitter primary between wealthy candidates Gil Cisneros and Andy Thorburn, and there are two other well funded Democrats. Royce is supporting former GOP Assemblywoman Young Kim and most people think she will make one of the runoff spots. But two other Republicans have held office in the area and so Democrats are focusing their fire on Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson and former Sen. Bob Huff to make sure they do not make the second runoff spot.

Like the 48th district, the Republican early vote has been strong, with 46 percent of early ballots being Republican, only 34 percent Democratic.

But perhaps the most bizarre congressional race in California is in the southern Orange County-northern San Diego County 49th district. Here GOP Assemblyman Rocky Chavez has led in the public polling with 2016 Democratic candidate Doug Applegate running second. But national Democrats have spent more than $1.2 million attacking Chavez, on the theory that Republican Board of Equalization member Diane Harkey is more likely to be in the top two and they want to make sure Chavez does not make it.

The California Target Book, in its weekly Hot Sheet to its subscribers, reports that a Republican-affiliated super PAC called American Future Fund is spending a quarter million dollars each in support of both Chavez and Harkey, with the hopes that both will make the runoff.

But here the early vote numbers are more favorable for the Democrats. This is the district Rep. Darrel Issa nearly lost to Applegate in 2016, forcing him to retire. While Republicans have a voter registration advantage, Democrats are running even with Republicans in the early vote, and the numbers are high suggesting a large voter turnout in this district.

Across the country, Democratic women have run very well this cycle. One to watch in this district is wealthy Democrat Sara Jacobs whose campaign has already raised more than $1.7 million. According to the Target Book, she just put another $500,000 of family money into her campaign.

With Jacobs and three well funded male Democrats, this is the district to watch for an all-Democratic runoff. It is the only competitive district so far where there is evidence of a Democratic voter surge.

For the rest of the state, the sleeping giant of Democratic Trump haters seems quite content to remain asleep.

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