by Don Gilbert, Mike Robson, Trent Smith, and Jason Ikerd; EGRS Lobbying, CalARVC’s Lobby Firm
The November General Election will be held on November 6. Much media attention is being placed on the fact that it is a mid-Presidential term election and therefore serves as a barometer of how the national voting public feels about the President of the United States.
Many pundits believe that control of the House of Representatives, and possibly the U.S. Senate could shift from Republican to Democrat. For that to happen, however, there are many traditionally California Republican congressional seats that would need to become Democrat seats in this election. These hotly contested congressional races will have a ripple effect on the elections for Governor, statewide ballot measures, and the Legislature, which is the main focus of this report.
Going into the November election it is important to note a few basic voter registration facts in California. The key fact is that both major parties are declining in voter registration, with decline in Republican registration being more dramatic.
As of September 7, 2018:
Democrats — 43.8 percent
Republicans — 25.1 percent
No Party Preference — 25.5 percent
At this point, there are more people who choose neither major party than there are people who register as Republicans.
It is widely expected that the current Lt. Governor, Democrat Gavin Newsom, will prevail in the race for Governor against Republican John Cox. Newsom has raised significantly more money and has held a significant lead in every statewide poll to date. The only debate occurred as a radio debate and attracted little attention. Cox is running on fiscal responsibility and opposition to increased fees and taxes. He specifically supports Proposition 6 which would repeal the current gas tax increase passed by the Legislature in 2017. Newsom is running on populist California themes that include immigrant and women’s equality rights, education, restrictions on guns, economic development, and criminal justice reform. It would be fair to say his campaign is an anti-Trump campaign which, if successful, could put him on the national stage as a Presidential candidate in 2020.
The U.S. Senate election is pertinent because it reflects the evolving demographics and philosophy of the Democratic Party in California. The incumbent is five-term Senator Dianne Feinstein who is being challenged by the former leader of the State Senate, Democrat 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. Interestingly, while De Leon is running as the more liberal candidate, he has closed a wide polling gap on Senator Feinstein due to Republicans indicating they will vote for anybody but Feinstein. Feinstein is still expected to prevail though it might be closer than originally expected.
Most political pundits agree that the only statewide race that might yield a change in party representation is the race for Insurance Commissioner. This race pits Democrat State Senator Ricardo Lara against former Republican Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner who is no longer registered with the Republican party.
Mr. Poizner’s candidacy, along with the fact that no Republican made the runoff for U.S. Senate, underscores the lack of a viable statewide candidate bench in the California Republican party. It further shows the potential threat to the long-term viability of the party in California.
As noted above, there are only a handful of competitive legislative seats. The suspense will be whether Democrats in the Senate regain the two-thirds supermajority and how much further the Democrats in the Assembly build on their existing supermajority. Specific interest is whether normally safe Republican seats and incumbents will be unseated based on the coattails of the millions of dollars being spent on overlapping congressional races.
Competitive State Senate Races
There is only one very competitive State Senate race, however as noted earlier, the money and interest in overlapping congressional races, might reveal some State Senate seats that become competitive closer to election day.
12th Senate District — Central Valley/Monterey
This seat covers the Central Valley from Modesto to Madera and reaches over the hills to Monterey. It is a seat currently held by a termed-out Republican and pits sitting Democrat Assemblywoman, Anna Caballero against Madera County Supervisor, Rob Poythress. This seat, on paper, favors the Democrats who have a 21 point voter registration advantage. However, Republicans have successfully won this seat over the years. This is a race where the overlapping congressional seat, featuring Congressman Denham vs. challenger Josh Harder, will definitely factor into the outcome.
Competitive State Assembly Races
The Democrats in the Assembly are guaranteed to pick up one Republican seat — the 76th Assembly District in North San Diego County. In that race, the Republicans diluted the vote among candidates in the primary to the point where no Republican advanced to the General Election. The two Democrats running are a traditional Democrat, Tasha Boerner-Horvath and a more progressive Democrat coincidentally named Elizabeth Warren.
40th Assembly District — San Bernardino County. James Ramos (D) vs Henry Nickel (R)
This is an open seat currently held by a Republican. Mr. Ramos is a current San Bernardino County Supervisor and has held other local elective offices and was Tribal Chairman of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians. Mr. Nickel is a San Bernardino City Councilmember. This district has been slowly becoming more Democratic with Democrats now having a more than 10 point advantage.
38th District — Santa Clarita/Antelope Valley. Assemblyman Dante Acosta (R) vs. Christy Smith (D)
Incumbent Republican Dante Acosta is facing Christy Smith for the second time having defeated Ms. Smith in a close race in 2016. This is another race where the overlapping congressional race between Representative Steve Knight and challenger Katie Hill will play a role in voter turnout. As it stands today, voter registration is nearly even and the final result may not be known for days after the election.
72nd District — Orange County. Tyler Diep (R) vs. Josh Lowenthal (D)
This is a normally very safe Republican seat. However, this coastal seat has strong Democratic tendencies and Mr. Lowenthal has proved to be a very capable fundraiser candidate. In the overlapping congressional race, it is believed that Republican Congressman Rohrabacher will be defeated and that race will certainly spillover into this election as well.
60th District — Riverside County. Assemblywoman Sabrina Cervantes (D) vs Bill Essayli (R)
Assemblywoman Cervantes won this seat in an upset in 2016 and it was believed that it would be difficult for her to win re-election. That still may be the case. However, as a voting legislator she has voted safely and conservatively on many business and tax issues. The power of incumbency will certainly factor into the outcome of this race and it is expected that she will retain this seat in November.
32nd Assembly District — Central Valley. Assemblyman Rudy Salas (D) vs Justin Mendes (R)
Assemblyman Salas is always identified as an incumbent Democrat targeted by the Republicans in this conservative-leaning district. The fact is, however, that Mr. Salas always prevails and seems to have strong bipartisan support in his district.
There are 11 statewide ballot measures on the November ballot which include a legislatively approved $4 billion housing bond and a $9 billion water infrastructure bond and two measures relevant to recent legislative actions involving the gas tax and rent control.
Proposition 6 — Gas Tax Repeal
It was hoped by Republicans that Proposition 6, to repeal the legislatively enacted higher gas taxes and fees, would help propel Republican candidates to victory in the General Election. This looked probable given the recall of Democratic Senator Josh Newman earlier in the year due to his vote for the gas tax. However, since the Newman recall, the gas tax repeal has waned in public polling. While it would be too early to predict a result, polling is trending towards defeat and with the opposition well-funded and saturating television and radio, this measure could go down in defeat.
Proposition 10 — Rent Control
This measure would repeal existing state law that restricts local governments from enacting strict rent control measures on landlords and property owners. This measure responds to the fact that the California Legislature has refused to advance bills to reform or repeal the state law that preempts local governments from doing so. Proposition 10 is strongly opposed by property owners, realtors, and developers who argue that the measure will stifle housing development and further restrict available housing for renters. The measure is supported by organized labor and the AIDs Healthcare Foundation who argue that local governments are best-suited to determine rents in their jurisdictions.