California No Longer a Passive Election Observer

Richard Rubin
Attorney Richard Rubin has taught at the University of San Francisco, Berkeley and Golden Gate University, is a regular columnist for the Marin Independent Journal and was Chair of the California Commonwealth Club Board of Governors, 2017-2019.

California voters for Donald Trump will be going through a meaningless exercise on March 3. They would have a better chance betting on the lottery. 

Not so for Democrats who have much at stake in whom they will be voting for what could influence not just later primaries but even the general election. 

Since 1992 when Pres. William Clinton carried the state it has voted Democratic in every presidential election. 

Trump could make a dozen visits here and it would not matter in a state he lost by 4 million votes to Hillary Clinton in 2016. 

The only question is whether his coattails will be long enough to return any of the seven members to Congress who lost their seats in the 2018 midterms. The prospects are not good according to the latest polls. 

Meanwhile in the coming election Democrats could be previewing a future nominee pick if our primary is a reliable barometer. 

At the moment the prohibitive favorite appears to be Bernie Sanders, the Democratic Socialist who has defied the expectations and hopes of many that he might quietly go away after his previous rejection. 

Not so for the so-called Bernie-crats who have re-emerged with fervor stronger than ever. While his showings in the Iowa and New Hampshire lead-off contests were perhaps less convincing this time around, he still managed to rack up strong pluralities in both contests against a much larger field. 

Looked at from a different perspective, the combined votes of both small-town Mayor Pete Buttigieg and the fast-rising lady senator from Minnesota, Amy Klobuchar, who together topped over 50% tell a different story. 

Californians generally do not take notice of what voters in other states are doing when they cast their ballots. That was in part because historically our preferences had little influence on the general election. 

That has changed now that we lead the parade of primaries on Super Tuesday with 405 pledged delegates to dole out when it could have real impact. 

If California’s bloc of delegates are able to come together in favor of a single candidate along with another 79 who will be unpledged, it would account for a little over 25% of the 1,990 needed to clinch the nomination! 

Of course how 8½ million registered Democrats will vote as well as about 5 million so-called independents who claim no party affiliation in what is now a modified “open primary”  is pure guess work. A final count may not be known until April. 

As of now the Democratic landscape here is badly fragmented. 

If the Sanders juggernaut can dominate, many leery observers are openly declaring that his nomination will spell suicide for the Democratic ticket. 

Sanders could be the George McGovern of 1972 whose passionate anti-Vietnam War believers (I was one of them) gave Richard Nixon a landslide victory. 

Sanders could also be the party’s savior providing that enough angry, motivated voters are prepared to cast their lot with the unabashed antistatus quo crusader who would put a wrecking ball to Washington’s establishment if he could do so.

Someone named Trump did something similar with reckless abandon and vengeful intent all but shunning his party label and has apparently gotten away with it. Just the other day he declared himself a “King!” 

No comparison is either intended or even possible. Sanders envisions a cultural and economic revolution not a political one replete with monarchical aspirations.

However, throughout history the voters have not shown themselves receptive to an over-reaching and lawless exercise of the executive power regardless from whence it springs. 

Nevertheless Sanders’ (and to a similar extent Elizabeth Warren’s) philosophical leanings even in a party that has veered noticeably Left since the end of the Obama era have not yet gone mainstream and this is the seminal fight within the Democratic ranks. 

In his recent column in the New York Times, entitled “The Left and Center Need to Get Along,” David Leonhardt writes, “Whether progressives and moderates can find common ground is likely to be a defining political question not just in 2020 but of this decade.” 

Republicans interested themselves in the preservation of their own party might want to rephrase the question slightly and ask whether the party which Trump has totally co-opted is sustainable and supportable in its current visage?

Or has any reconciliation between both major parties become impossible? 

A full-on “stop-Sanders” movement, if one exists, is well below the surface and the state party leadership as could be anticipated has been loath to take sides. 

Behind the scenes however, some influential California Democrats are moving to boost the prospects of some of the leading moderates to the forefront. These are most conspicuously Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg.

 Another ascendant candidate has surfaced however with enough money to overpower all the others combined.

 Former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg has made little secret of his willingness to spend millions on California and nation-wide advertising to fuel a campaign that was largely under the radar for the past year. 

If he qualifies to appear in the next presidential debate, scheduled for February 19th (not yet certain at this writing) it will be his first on-stage confrontation with fellow candidates.

Bloomberg could be formidable as the Biden default replacement for voters not yet convinced others may be more electable. 

If the corporate wizard can catch fire here, he will have to convince voters that his money-fueled heavy-handedness, his Wall Street clubbiness, his avoidance of earlier public debates and his former Republican membership are not irreversible black marks. 

To do that the 78-year old would need at a minimum to win over skeptical young people, collegians and older party activists who for reasons not entirely explicable, have flocked to the 79 year old Vermonter. 

Bloomberg’s “stop-and-frisk” policies while Mayor and his attribution to those who opposed “red lining” as the principal cause for the nation’s financial meltdown is not sitting well with black voters whose support is indispensable for any Democratic candidate. 

Still, his business acumen and managerial prowess could make him attractive to Silicon Valley technocrats, corporate leaders and even Independents who might be happy to install a law-abiding CEO in the White House. 

The fact that Bloomberg would be the first Jewish president might not be a deterrent except for those with deep-rooted prejudices of all kinds that are always at work in elections. 

Sanders also has Jewish ancestry but seems to have shorn that label completely for one which is anathema to a much larger segment of the voting populace. 

Our next-door neighbor will give us some further glimmering of how well the front-runners are faring in the February 22nd Nevada primary that features true diversity with its heavy preponderance of Latino/Hispanic voters and strong labor union representation. 

With South Carolina to follow a week later, the California picture might become clearer or it could be even more muddled after March 3.

Either way, California is no longer just a passive observer and the candidates will prove it as they begin arriving in a steady stream on our shores.  

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