What We Can Learn From California’s Primary Elections

Nancy has already done a nice roundup of last night’s primary elections in eight states. I’d like to add one probable correction to that piece. It looks like there’s a good chance that the Democrats will be shut out of at least one California election, in the state’s 8th Congressional District. With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Republican Tim Donnelly is in second place with a 760-vote lead over Democrat Marjorie Doyle. With plenty of mail-in and provisional ballots still to count, the race has not been called, but incumbent Republican Paul Cook is likely to face Donnelly in the general election. This isn’t some great loss for the Democratic Party since the three Democrats running carried only 36 percent of the vote combined, but it’s a shame for Democrats living in the district who will now have no one from their own party to select.

As for California Republicans, they’re rejoicing that they’ll at least have a candidate in the governor’s race. It’s not that their candidate, John Cox, has much of a chance of beating Democrat Gavin Newsom, but right-leaning voters will now have more incentive to show up to the polls and that’s heartening for down-ticket GOP candidates. It’s all the more important because it appears that the Republicans have been shut out of the elections for U.S. Senate and lieutenant governor. Incumbent Senator Diane Feinstein will face off against Democratic state Sen. Kevin de León. The lieutenant governor’s race is shaping up to feature Democrats Eleni Kounalakis and Ed Hernandez.

Had the Republican Party been shut out of all three of the races at the top of the ticket, the threat of carnage at the bottom of the ticket would have substantially increased.

Republicans had hoped for far better news than that, however. There was the potential for Democrats to be shut out of at least four elections they should have a chance to win, in California’s 10th, 39th, 48th, and 49th districts. But the Democrats prevented that from happening in any of them.

If I had to choose the best news of the night for California Republicans, it would be the strong performance of Orange County Rep. Mimi Walters. With 100 percent of precincts reporting, she stands in first place at 53.2 percent. She made herself vulnerable by voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which would have cost more than 20 million Americans to lose their health insurance. She’ll face UC-Irvine law professor Katie Porter, a former law student of Elizabeth Warren who has a similar profile on consumer protection. This will still be a hotly contested race, but Walters doesn’t look as threatened as Democrats had hoped.

Looking at the California returns, Matt Yglesias at Vox projects the the Democrats are on track to win a narrow majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. His prediction is based on the fact that the Democrats improved over their 2016 primary performance by an average of five percent in the seven most targeted Golden State districts and that Nate Cohn has said that a nationwide improvement of 4.5 percent would be sufficient to take the House. The chances are that the five percent number will grow as all the outstanding votes are tallied.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.