GOP, Dems Fight to Make It To California's General Election Ballot

May 30, 2018

The 2018 California Primaries are less than a week away, and a slew of Republicans and Democrats are vying to make it on to the November general election ballot. KUNR’s Paul Boger reached out Alexi Koseff – a political reporter with the Sacramento Bee – to break down next week’s election.

Why don’t we start off by talking about what seats are up for grabs?

This is a gubernatorial election year in California and it’s a particularly big one because we have an open governor’s seat and there are quite a few candidates running. There has been, sort of, this logjam of opportunity for up and coming California politicians with older folks like Jerry Brown holding down the top seats in California for the last decade or so, so a bunch of people have jumped in, including Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Treasurer John Chung, among others and it’s a very big deal. It’s a competitive race and obviously the biggest one to keep an eye on this year.

With that, there’s a number of other constitutional offices that are also up for election from Lieutenant Governor to Attorney General to Secretary of State on down, as well as half of the seats in the 40-member state Senate and all of the seats in the 80-member Assembly, and all 53 California Congressional seats. So, let’s go ahead and talk about the governor’s race right now.

You said Jerry Brown is term-limited and it seems that Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom is destined to take the mantle, right?

Well, I think there is a lot of folks that would argue with destined. He’s certainly in a very good position. He’s been comfortably leading in the polls for a long time, comfortably leading in the money race. But, there’s an open questions about whom he’ll face in the runoff, because of California’s new top-two primary system, the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, will advance. That could mean he faces another Democrat in November. Then it’s really up for grabs because there’s a question of whether Republicans will hang out of the race, whether they’ll try and go for a more moderate candidate or what will happen there. So, if he faces off against a Republican it seems like it’s a pretty good bet for him. The state is so Democratic that he would probably have a fairly comfortable race there. If he’s facing off against Antonio Villaraigosa or John Chung, then maybe things are a lot more complicated for him going ahead after June.

But does it look like the Republicans are starting to outpace Villaraigosa, at least?

There are two Republicans right now who are looking like they’re in a pretty good spot to advance to the top two. There’s businessman John Cox and Assemblyman Travis Allen. John Cox has a lot more money and he has more of the establishment Republican support, but Travis Allen has a huge fan base among the most conservative in California. They really see him as this representation of the values that have been maligned and sidelined in this liberal state, and they see an opportunity in him to take back their state essentially. So they could boost him over the top into that top tow. There are enough candidates that things can be very splintered in June.

The question mark is whether this growing independent expenditure committee that is raising money to boost Antonio Villaraigosa will have an effect. They are millionaires from across the country who have put more than $17 million into this independent committee that can spend on television advertising and mailings and things like that in favor of Villaraigosa. They really like him because he’s more open to charter schools, taking on teacher’s unions and other changes that so-called education reformers would like to see in this state. So they are really trying to get him into the top two because they see an opportunity there to then appeal to Republicans and make a really competitive race against Gavin Newsom.

Longtime, incumbent Dianne Feinstein is facing a somewhat tougher than expected primary challenge from Kevin De Leon who is president of the state Senate, and he’s running to her left. Is that a threat to her?

It’s really hard to say how much of a threat that’s actually going to be. He’s certainly has changed the conversation. He’s pushed her to the left on some issues and he nearly nabbed the endorsement from the California Democratic Party at the convention in February. He’s definitely more of a liberal hero and that’s the base of the party that really wanted to boost him, but Dianne Feinstein is an institution in California. She’s been in office for more than a quarter-century. People know her. People respect her and it’s hard to see him mounting a real challenge to her at this point because he’s been unable to raise very much money. If he makes it to the top two and they’re facing off against each other and there’s big donors who are willing to come in and help him make a real race of it, then the equation changes. Right now, it’s a lot more of a war of words then it really is a campaign battle.

There’s also been this interesting development with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi announcing that the state’s Democratic Congressional Delegation was actually going to try and tip the scales and flip some of the key races down ballot. How likely is that to work and could that backfire on them?

What’s really interesting right now is that we’re only a couple of cycles into this top two situation, and that has created an unprecedented territory in just about every race and every level of race in California. There’s constantly new dynamics in play, especially in the changing demographics. The state continues to be more Latino, more Asian, more liberal and that has changed the dynamics in every race from governor on down to Congress.

So, in these Congressional races where the Democrats really see a chance to take seats from Republicans in Orange County in particular, they’re trying to figure out just what kind of Democrat might voters be willing to elect from there. They’ve never really elected Democrats from those districts before and so Democrats are trying to figure out if they should boost candidates who will get voters excited because they really stand up for the liberal values of the party. Should they boost more moderate candidates who could win over crossover voters? Meanwhile, Republicans have their own strategies about trying to get a top two of Republicans because there are so many Democrats running that they split the vote and allow two Republicans through and they’ll keep those seats. So there are all these different types of factors at play, all these different types of advertising that just pouring into those district and it’s really hard to say. Until we see what happens on June 5th, whether who’s had a good strategy and who’s had a bad strategy.

How likely are Republicans to gain any traction ahead of the primary?

Republicans are in a very difficult spot right now in California. They have dropped to only about a quarter of registered voters and they have nearly been surpassed by non-party preference voters or independents. So, they are at this really difficult crossroads right in California, trying to figure out their own future. Should they go more towards the middle and try and appeal to disaffected Democrats, or should the veer to the right and hold on to their base of conservatives who are much more reliable voters than Democrats anyway? In these districts like Orange County that are going to be targeted, that are swing, and they’re not sure what’s going to happen, they are actually leaning towards issues to try and get people excited rather than the candidates themselves. So things like this repeal of the gas tax that will likely be on the ballot in November, or trying to whip up fervor over the so-called sanctuary state law. Things like that foment outrage, {Republicans can] turn it against Democrats and win support that way because there is so much Anti-Trump sentiment that’s driving the Democratic surge in these once safely Republican districts.