Thursday, December 4, 2014

California Assembly and Senate Results

The story of the California congressional election was one of Republicans falling short or Democrats valiantly defending everywhere, depending on your perspective. The assembly and senate elections were a different story. In order to retain their supermajority Democrats couldn’t afford to lose more than one assembly and one senate seat. This threshold is mostly symbolic. A two thirds vote is only necessary to raise taxes or get referendums on the ballot. Jerry Brown has indicated he’d veto most tax increases and the Democratic caucus had too many moderates to go whole hog in on taxes. Whatever happened Democrats would still have big majorities.

The question is whether you’re moving forward or backward and parties want to be moving forward. Democrats had picked up 4 senate seats and 3 assembly seats in 2012 and wanted to protect those gains. One of those senate seats was gained because the redistricting commission had put an extra Democratic seat into the 2012 election. That came back at them in 2014 when an expiring San Francisco based seat was replaced with a Republican seat in Riverside county. That seat had two Republicans finish Top Two and was already lost.

While the California Republican party ignored the congressional and statewide races they went all in on the assembly races. The positive results showed. There were 48 assembly races that had a Republican taking on a Democrat in both 2012 and 2014. The average Republican gained 4.3% and the gap between Republicans and Democrats was closed by 8.6% overall.

Republicans gained most in safe Republican districts. Eight of the top 16 biggest gain were made in safe Republican districts. Three of the remaining 9 flipped from Democrats to the GOP.

2012 Presidential PVI: D+7
2014 margin: Republican +21.0%

This district covers a lot of the same area as Jim Costa’s CA-16 and shows you how difficult it is for Democrats down ballot in the Central Valley. We don’t have the final numbers in but Jerry Brown probably won the district by 15 points. In most places in America Republicans don’t even contend in a D+7 district, let alone win the district by 21 points. Democrats didn’t have anyone to run and didn’t invest any money in the race. The good news for Democrats is that Anthony Cannella is term limited in 2018, but if they don’t have anyone to run then either they won’t win the seat.

2012 Presidential PVI: D+7
2014 margin: Republican +8.2%

This district is just south of SD-12, also in the Central Valley, roughly in the same area as CA-21. Here the Democrats spent over $2.5 million and outside groups spent more. If you look at who was making the contributions to Luis Chavez’ campaign you can see one reason he did so poorly. He didn’t fundraise himself. Democrats just kept pouring money in to prop him up. Andy Vidak can run for re-election in 2018. I don’t know if the Democrats will have a credible candidate then either.

2012 Presidential PVI: D+14
2014 margin: Democrat +4.6%

If you want to see an example of Republican success you need to look no further than SD-32. Yes, the GOP lost this seat, but it was D+14! Democrats won similar seats this year by 18-20%. So what happened? The seat was open and Republicans were running Mario Guerra, the popular Latino mayor of Downey. Guera only spent about $300k of his own money but a Republican SuperPAC spent a little over $1 million. That doesn’t come close to matching what Democrats spent in SD-14, but it’s significantly more than usually gets spent by Republicans in the Gateway cities of Los Angeles county. If a good candidate and a little spending can get a Republican within 5% in a D+14 LA county district there is life in the Republican party.

2012 Presidential PVI: D+3
2014 margin: Republican +16.2%

This was a Democratic held seat, albeit one made more Republican friendly by redistricting. Democrats had a former assemblyman and poured a lot of money into this race. Republicans did too and the results showed.

Democrats certainly don’t need to make gains in California. They already dominate. That said, Orange County and the Central Valley are two places they are trying to make gains in. Barack Obama won there and Jerry Brown probably did too. This year’s results shouldn’t make them too optimistic.

Half of the state senate seats are up every two years. Democrats won only 11 of these 20. That the seats are so favorable to the GOP in the mid-term should make any Republican feel good. Democrats have 15 of the 20 districts up in 2016. In 2012 there were 5 races decided by 12% or less and Democrats have 4 of these districts. I don’t want to go into a preview so early but Republicans could make further gains then.

2012 Presidential PVI: D+1
2012 margin: Democrat +8.6%
2014 margin: Democrat +9.4%

It wasn’t all unicorns and rainbows for the California GOP. Republicans should be able to contest this suburban Sacramento district, mostly in CA-7, but have been beaten down both in 2012 and 2014. Ken Cooley looks fairly unbeatable.

2012 Presidential PVI: D+7
2012 margin: Democrat +18.4%
2014 margin: Republican +3.8%

If you want the best Republican story of the year it’s in this East Bay district. This isn’t the Central Valley. Here a D+7 district is supposed to produce a result like the one in 2012. Catherine Baker did poorly in the primary. Democrat Tim Sbranti, a good progressive, massively outspent Baker. Baker clearly ran a great campaign and it’s pretty clear that the moderates who supported Democrat Steve Glazer were turned off by Sbranti. I fully expect Baker to lose this district in 2016, but for now kudos on the triumph.

2012 Presidential PVI: D+5
2012 margin: Democrat +16.1%
2014 margin: Democrat +4.8%

Republicans did fail in this Central Valley seat, largely in SD-12 and CA-16, but there are some qualifications to make. Republican Jack Mobley got beat badly in 2012 and didn’t want to run again. The GOP failed to get a challenger for Democrat Adam Gray and had to coax Mobley to run as a write-in in the primary. Mobley’s heart clearly wasn’t in it and he was outspent by around $940k to $45k. Still, Gray would be a strong Democratic recruit should Jim Costa retire from congress or for the open SD-12 in 2018. The problem is that term limits were changed and Gray can be in the legislature until 2024. So he might not be so quick to leave.

2012 Presidential PVI: D+5
2012 margin: Democrat +5.6%
2014 margin: Democrat +6.2%

This seat, largely in CA-21 and SD-14, was one Republicans made a big push for and came up with a worse loss than in 2012. All this while David Valadao and Andy Vidak were winning up ballot. Rudy Salas certainly seems like a strong recruit to run against Valadao in 2016 or Vidak in 2018, but he also can serve in the assembly until 2024. I think you’ll see a lot less chamber hopping now that a legislator can serve all his years in a single chamber but congress will be attractive at some point for Salas. With a thin Democratic bench, I’m guessing he’s at the top of the DCCC’s list if Henry Perea doesn’t run.

2012 Presidential PVI: R+3
2012 margin: Democrat +0.1%
2014 margin: Republican +20.4%

This was the most unusual 2012 result. It was the only R+ PVI district Democrats won in 2012. They ran a former Republican because they had no bench. He managed to get a huge number of votes on the last day of counting to win. If the GOP didn’t retake this seat in 2014, they should’ve just folded up the tents. The landslide here is no surprise and I wouldn’t expect the district to be contended by Democrats in the future.

2012 Presidential PVI: D+2
2012 margin: Republican +0.8%
2014 margin: Republican +12.8%

The GOP made a big gain here and that’s certainly a positive considering an incumbent ran in 2012 and this was an open seat race. But Democrats never seriously contested the district. So Marc Steinorth actually did better in the general election than the primary. I don’t know if Democrats will go after the district in 2016, but they should.

2012 Presidential PVI: D+2
2012 margin: Republican +4.8%
2014 margin: Democrat +2.2%

Ventura county was loaded with disappointment for the GOP. Jeff Gorell abandoned this seat and he could’ve run for one more term. Not only did Gorell lose his congressional race, but the GOP nominated a polarizing candidate that cost them this seat. Republicans will look for a new candidate in 2016.

2012 Presidential PVI: D+13
2012 margin: Democrat +27.0%
2014 margin: Democrat +2.8%

It’d be nice to think that this LA county district could be competitive but this result is simply because the incumbent Ian Calderon has politician family members under indictment. Some who heard about those indictments probably assumed Calderon was too. Democrats may want a new candidate in 2016, but it’s possible there won’t be another scare for Calderon.

2012 Presidential PVI: D+1
2012 margin: Republican +3.6%
2014 margin: Republican +23.4%

This Corona based district should’ve been an opportunity for Democrats but the Democratic party’s candidate didn’t submit enough qualified signatures on his nomination forms and didn’t make the primary ballot. They did get him enough signatures to run as a write-in, but he lost to another Democratic write in who didn’t run a campaign. Democrats should try harder in 2016.

2012 Presidential PVI: D+1
2012 margin: Democrat +4.0%
2014 margin: Republican +9.2%

Democrats had never won any Orange County election in a district that wasn’t majority Hispanic, so the 2012 result was a shocker. Democrats were unlikely to hold the district, but they were so hungry to retain it that they funneled $3.4 million into Sharon Quirk-Silva’s campaign account. Yes, in an assembly race. Republican Young Kim was outspent 2 to 1, but still managed to recapture the district. Democrats have better opportunities for 2016, but I doubt they’ll give up after spending this much this year.

2012 Presidential PVI: D+4
2012 margin: Democrat +9.6%
2014 margin: Republican +0.6%

This didn’t look like a win for the GOP. Barack Obama and Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi did better than expected in 2012. Republican David Hadley was underwhelming in winning the primary by 1% and he was outspent more than 2 to 1. It didn’t look like a district Republicans would get. Yet Hadley made Muratsuchi the third Democratic incumbent to lose. (Note: Republicans hadn’t beaten one since 1994.) This is a major opportunity for Democrats in 2016.

While Republicans did better in congressional races those results were full of disappointment. The GOP made strong gains in the assembly and senate races. They did leave a few districts on the table, something you don't want to happen in a strong Republican year, but the question going in was whether the Republican party was dead. That's clearly not the case.

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