Post-Primary Ponderings

Sherry Bebitch Jeffe & Doug Jeffe
Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, Professor of the Practice of Public Policy Communication, Sol Price School of Public Policy, University of Southern California, and Doug Jeffe, Communications and Public Affairs Strategist

After all the hand-wringing by Inside the Beltway pundits and politicos, the so-called “Jungle Primary” nightmare scenario failed to materialize, when none of the highly contested California Congressional races produced a GOP vs GOP runoff that would have shut out Democrats from contesting a potentially winnable district in November.  If, and it is a big if, there is a blue tsunami in November, how many of these targeted districts could end up in Democratic hands?

The race for Insurance Commissioner provides an interesting test case as to whether a moderate Republican is better off running as a No Party Preference (NPP) candidate then as a member of California’s new Third Party—the GOP.  Steve Poizner has the advantage of some name recognition left over from his previous stint as Insurance Commissioner and his 2010 gubernatorial primary battle with Meg Whitman.  Is this first-place finish for an NPP candidate a “one-off”?

There are signs that gubernatorial candidate Antonio Villaraigosa and Senator wanna-be Kevin De Leon. underperformed among their voter base. Two fellow Democrats, both from Northern California—Lt. Gov. Gavin Newson in the Governor’s race and incumbent U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, defending her seat, outpolled Villaraigosa and de Leon on their home turf of Los Angeles County.

We don’t know yet whether that was a function of tepid Latino turn out statewide–although there are early reports that Latino voter participation in Orange County was significantly high. Was that because OC’s hot district races motivated turnout? For whom did Latinos turnout? (And where are those exit polls when you need them?) What will influence California’s “Sleeping Giant” in November, when partisanship, immigration and Donald Trump are likely to be front and center?

Or is the lackluster showing of these two high-level, Latino political leaders simply another iteration of an historic North-South state electoral conundrum? Comes election time, Southern California has the numbers, but the North state has the intensity. The San Francisco Bay area regularly cleans L.A.’s electoral clock.

Would down ballot Democrats have been better off with a governor’s race between the two main Democratic contenders, Newsom and Villaraigosa, rather than with a Democrat versus Republican showdown? The conventional wisdom has been that a dearth of GOP representation at the top of the ticket could depress Republican voting.  Is there any conventional wisdom left, when it comes to political behavior?

And it’s clear that Donald Trump’s social media love fest with John Cox, helped propel the GOP gubernatorial candidate into the run-off, by burnishing Cox’s conservative, Trumpian creds.

Now, however, Cox, has the Trump label planted firmly on his MAGA cap. Can Democrats turn November‘s general election into a referendum on Donald Trump that could spike turnout and create a real wave in state where the President is massively unpopular?

It is puzzling that none of the Democratic gubernatorial candidates embraced the popular Democratic incumbent Governor, Jerry Brown.  In particular, why didn’t State Treasurer John Chiang  talk about how he and Brown steered California through a massive fiscal crisis and how Chiang was committed to carrying on Brown’s stewardship of the State’s finances?  Instead, Chiang attempted to take full credit for righting the State’s fiscal ship–a claim that just didn’t resonate.

Was the successful recall of Democratic State Senator Josh Newman, because of his vote in favor of gas tax hikes, necessarily an omen of things to come if/when Republicans place a gas tax repeal measure on the November ballot?  Or was the 29th SD recall really a local partisan rumble, where the GOP simply out mobilized the Democrats?  Once the issue is brought to statewide voters in the form of a ballot proposition and millions of dollars are spent to argue against the measure, highlighting what local transportation projects could be killed, the results could be quite different.

Where did Antonio’s mojo go?  His enthusiasm seemed forced and he lacked the sense of energy that characterized his earlier campaigns.  His style came across as very “old school” and he just wasn’t connecting with voters.  If he had made the runoff, Villaraigosa might have poked holes in some of Newsom’s stances, particularly the single payer healthcare plan being pushed by the California Nurses Association.

Will Gavin Newsom’s very early sprint out of the campaign blocks further elongate an already seemingly endless–and increasingly money-gouging–political season? Newsom’s campaign was pretty much flawless.  He took advantage of his fund-raising prowess and solid Bay area base.  He had plenty of time to put it all together.

Will “gamesmanship”—or what used to be called “campaign dirty tricks” –become the political technique du jour—in this already nasty and brutish political environment? Instead of duking it out with Villaraigosa, the Newsom campaign portrayed John Cox as his real, pro-Trump rival—a preview of the fall campaign and a big boost for the Cox candidacy among Republicans.  As it is, the Newsom-Cox runoff would seem to be a total mismatch—one that Newsom clearly relishes. And, oh yeah, the national Democratic Party operation did its own playing around, attempting to boost little-known GOP candidates challenging GOP incumbents.

Wither the vaunted internecine struggle over generational and ideological leadership within the California Democratic Party? The campaign of “establishment” darling Dianne Feinstein hit all the right marks.  It emphasized her leadership and accomplishments, while moving her a bit to the left.  Feinstein’s gun control stance is particularly resonant in today’s political environment.  Underfunded and pretty much unknown, “Progressive” hero State Senator Kevin De Leon squeaked into the runoff but seems outclassed by California’s senior Senator.  In this generational contest, Dianne Feinstein would appear to be younger than springtime.

It would also appear that it’s going to be a long, hot political summer in California. What will that mean for the Golden State, come the Fall?

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