Hot CA Democratic Primary Could Burn State Republicans

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

Traditionally, Republican voters turn out in higher percentages relative to their registration numbers compared to Democrats in primary elections. That may not hold true when California voters go to the polls on March 3.

With all the attention on the Democratic presidential nomination race in California and Republican voters prohibited from asking for a Democratic ballot, one wonders the effect on down ticket races if many Republicans choose to stay home.

Because of California’s unique election system, all candidates for an office other than president are listed on the same ballot and a voter can vote for any of the candidates regardless of party. Yet, party preferences of candidates are identified on the ballots. An occasional Democratic voter who is driven to vote this time because of the close presidential contest on the Democratic side will probably be looking for Democrats to vote for in other races.

Meanwhile, Republicans who see no major presidential challenger to President Trump just may sit this election out. That is the fear of state Republican officials.

The problem for Republicans is compounded by an effort by some Republicans to stand against President Trump. As well-regarded California consultant Rob Stutzman, an Anti-Trump Republican, suggested in a San Francisco Chronicle column, “If the Democrats nominate someone you cannot tolerate under any circumstances then withhold your vote and write in your favorite high school teacher.”

Stutzman’s advice applies to the General Election but that message could circulate among certain disgruntled Republicans in the primary election as well.

California Republicans have talked about rebuilding their party from the bottom up. In a strange way, this coming primary may present them a unique opportunity. Emphasizing Republican solutions for state and local problems while ignoring national politics might make Republican candidates competitive in some March contests. They have issues to explore with growing threats of greater taxes despite record revenue, threats to business and the state’s economy and the big issue of the moment—homelessness.

In an odd way, Trump could amplify those issues if he chooses to run ads during the California primary specific to the state. From a strategic position it makes little sense that he would do so, but Trump frequently throws out the conventional playbook. He seems to enjoy needling California leadership and he is still smarting from his popular vote defeat in 2016 caused by the overwhelming vote against him in the Golden State. Who knows?

Yet, it seems likely that the Democratic presidential candidates will be dominating the airwaves before March 3 and if the contest is still hot after earlier primaries and caucuses down ticket candidates may not be heard over the din of presidential politics.

With less than two months to go before the California primary, television airwaves are flooded with two presidential candidates seeking votes—billionaire Democrats Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer. More ads from other candidates will follow.

Steyer is competing in some of the earlier primary and caucus contests but if he performs poorly his goose could be cooked by the time March 3 rolls around. Bloomberg’s strategy of striking it rich on Super Tuesday, the day of the California primary along with 18 other state primaries, is a different story. Bloomberg is going all out in his television campaign strategy even buying one of those super-duper expensive Super Bowl commercials. (President Trump is buying a Super Bowl ad, also.)

Check out the graph on the Five Thirty Eight web page showing television spending of the presidential candidates. Pretty much all Bloomberg and Steyer with Bloomberg’s spending in California far and away the most.  Taking one ad from each candidate as an example, Five Thirty Eight reports that the Steyer ad titled “Term Limits” aired 219 times in California from November 17 to January 7. Bloomberg’s ad titled “Tough Fights” aired 2,909 times in California just between December 4 and December 23.

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