CA 2018 June Primary Pre-Election Report

Provided by Edelstein, Gilbert, Robson & Smith; CalARVC’s Lobbying Firm

Overview
The California June Primary Election is June 5. However, that date is somewhat misleading since approximately 60 percent of voters in California will vote early by absentee ballot.

An additional twist in California’s primary election is the “top-two” vote recipients in each race will advance to the November General Election, regardless of party affiliation. That means in certain races two Democrats or two Republicans will face off in the November election and there will be no third-party candidates on the November ballot for each race.

As of April 6, California had approximately 18 million registered voters which means approximately 75 percent of the eligible, voting age population is registered to vote. Approximately 45 percent of registered voters belong the Democratic Party. While the Republican Party’s decline in influence in California is evident by the fact that there are about an equal amount of registered Republicans as there are people who registered with No Party Preference, each at 25 percent.

Traditionally, less than 40 percent of registered voters actually vote in the June primary. It remains to be seen whether there is a mid-term Trump effect that encourages Democrats to go to the polls or if the race for Governor is energizing enough to get voters to turn in their ballots or show up to vote.

Below is a breakdown of some of the key races to watch for the June 5 primary.

Governor
The race for Governor features four prominent Democrats and two Republicans and the big question on election night will be whether a Democrat or Republican will join front-runner Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom on the November ballot. It is believed that if either Republican makes the November ballot, they will be steamrolled by Newsom. However, if another Democrat cracks the top-two, the November election could be very competitive.

Gavin Newsom is a former Mayor of San Francisco who earned his progressive credentials by being an early advocate for legalizing gay marriage and recreational marijuana use. He is a supporter of the single payer healthcare proposal forwarded by the California Nurses Association and has the backing of many public employee labor unions, including the California Teachers Association and Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

Antonio Villaraigosa is a former Democratic Mayor of Los Angeles who is running to the right of Gavin Newsom. A former union organizer, he incurred the wrath of public employee unions while Mayor of Los Angeles, by tempering employee expectations during lean budget years and pushing education reform in Los Angeles schools.

John Cox and Assemblyman Travis Allen are the two Republicans on the ballot. There is little public policy distinctions between the two. They are both advocating to repeal the increased gas tax on the November ballot and both promise not to raise taxes and reduce government spending while Governor. At this time, John Cox, carrying the endorsement of President Trump is polling at number 2 in the primary.

The other Democrats in the race are former Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin and Controller John Chiang. Despite an impressive endorsement list and fundraising numbers, Chiang has not broken through in the polls. He is campaigning on a promise of fiscal stability and ensuring that California government lives within its means.

US Senator
While the US Senator does not have direct impact on policy debates in the State Capitol, this election is pertinent because it reflects the evolving demographics and philosophy of the Democratic Party in California. The incumbent four-term Senator, Dianne Feinstein is being challenged by the former leader of the State Senate, Kevin De Leon. De Leon is running from the left of Feinstein, arguing that she does not represent the progressive values of California and makes a not-so-subtle pitch based on the age of Senator Feinstein. As the only two viable candidates in the race, the election results in June will send a signal of where the voters will be in November. If De Leon runs close, we should expect a more heated campaign heading into November.

Legislative Races
California voters revised legislative term limits in 2012. With that revision, legislators can now serve for 12 years total and can serve all of that time in one house of the Legislature. All incumbent Assemblymembers are serving under the new rules while the Senate still has a handful of Senators who previously served in the Assembly and are serving under the old rules. For that reason there are fewer competitive primary elections in the Assembly than in the past, and just a handful in the Senate.

Senate District 29. The most competitive legislative race for the June primary happens to be a Special Recall Election that coincides with the June primary. Democrat Senator Josh Newman representing parts of Orange, San Bernardino and Los Angeles Counties is the subject of a voter-initiated recall election that seeks to unseat him based on his vote to raise gas taxes in his first-year in office. Voters in his district will be presented two votes. First, whether or not to unseat the Senator and then a second question asking that if he is unseated, who would replace him. This recall election will have an immediate impact on the partisan makeup of the State Senate. Senator Newman had an upset victory in 2016 by winning a seat that traditionally has been held by a Republican. His victory gave the Senate Democrats the 27 members it needs to make up the two-thirds supermajority. If Senator Newman is recalled, his replacement will be a Republican who will be seated immediately.

Senate District 32. This is a complicated election that involves an overlapping June primary and a special election to fill the seat vacated by Democrat Senator Tony Mendoza from Artesia who was pressured to resign due to sexual harassment allegations. However, Mendoza, despite resigning, is running and actively campaigning in both elections. The Democrats are rallying around former Assemblyman Rudy Bermudez and it is still possible that former Senator Mendoza could end up in a runoff election against Bermudez.

Senate District 22. This San Gabriel Valley race has four Democrats vying to replace termed out Senator Ed Hernandez so this will be a two Democrat November election. It is likely that the top two candidates will be the more moderate Susan Rubio and former Assemblyman Mike Eng. Mr. Eng will be backed by the party leadership, labor and his wife Congresswoman Judy Chu. While Ms. Rubio is backed by her sister, Assemblywoman Blanca Rubio, and other business interests.

Assembly District 76. This race to replace Republican Assemblyman Rocky Chavez who is leaving to run for Congress could be troubling for the Republican party. This North San Diego County seat has traditionally been a Republican seat but party registration is now even. Add the fact that there are six Republicans on the ballot and only two Democrats, there is a possibility that Republicans split the vote and leave the two Democrats as the top vote getters for the November election. This is a race to keep an eye on election night.

Conclusion
As noted above, the Republican Party’s dwindling base of voters is reflected in the fact that the key issue in 2018 will be whether Republicans can eke out enough wins in November to prevent the Democrats from securing a two-thirds supermajority. The supermajority status would allow tax increases, constitutional amendments and all legislative rule waivers to pass on party-line votes. There will be several competitive Democrat vs Republican races in the November election that we will discuss at that time. It is important to note, that the two-thirds supermajority does not guarantee passage of tax increases. There are enough moderate Democrats in the Legislature to push back against many of the tax and fee increases pushed by their progressive colleagues and if Senator Newman is recalled, it will be difficult for caucus leaders to pressure those rank and file Democrats to cast politically unpopular votes in the future.

We will provide a post-election summary following the June 5 primary.