Saturday, June 11, 2016

Challenging California Primary Conventional Wisdom

When top two came about in 2012 many people didn't know what to expect. Some of us made our predictions, but no one knew for sure. After two primaries and general elections people think they know. I think they may be wrong again.

The conventional wisdom is that the June primary is far more Republican than November general election. This seemed to take some people by surprise in 2012 but those that were taken by surprise thought they learned that any district that a Republican won by 10% or less was in play and any Republican who lost didn't stand a chance. But then in 2014 a bunch of Republicans put huge scares into Democrats and a few even improved on primary performance. A Republican assembly candidate even won a district that she got 36% of the primary vote.

Things may have changed. The VBM ballots came in more heavily for Democrats than they ever did in November. The VBM return actually closely reflected the final 2012 overall party distribution. Could this be the new normal? Some might think so, especially with the Democratic registration surge. I'm skeptical. This election results were way beyond a voter surge. In a normal primary I'd expect 55-60% of the electorate in a Democratic Presidential primary. This one had 69%. Some of that 69% were NPP voters who lean Republican down ballot, but even then, Democrats won the congressional vote 64%-36%. In the 2012 general election there were 56 Democrats and 47 Republicans running due to a bunch of Democrat-Democrat top two face offs. In that election Democrats won 62%-38%. So even with an improvement over 2012 it's hard to imagine Democrats doing any better than winning 64% of the congressional vote. I can't see Democrats doing better in November than they did in this election and I'd guess it'll be worse.

Some people have speculated that Donald Trump will decrease Republican turnout. It's possible but there's no evidence at this point. They've also said that Trump is going to increase Latino turnout. There was no indication it did increase with this primary.

So how much more Republican will the results go? The low end is that the results won't go more Republican. The high end is that you can cut off 6-8 points from any margin.

In the congressional races people are already proclaiming Darrell Issa is in trouble in CA-49. I'm skeptical. Issa's victory margin was 5.9% on election night and it's already gone up to 6.1%. He won in 2012 by 16.4% and in 2014 by 20.4%. His opponent this time is Doug Applegate. Applegate spent all of $39,636 before the primary and had $13,809 in his bank account two weeks before. Issa had $3.8 million in his campaign account. Applegate isn't likely to win more votes by himself. If he does manage to raise any money, Issa can drown him out. I don't see the race being close in November.

Three incumbent Republicans, Jeff Denham, David Valadao, and Steve Knight, were thought to be in trouble, but Republicans beat Democrats in their districts by 16%, 16%, and 13%. Only Denham's opponent has raised money and Denham has 6 times the COH the Democrat does. None of them appear to be in trouble.

Are any Democrats in trouble? Democrats won CA-7 by 6 points, CA-16 by 8, CA-24 by 7, and CA-31 by 7. All of those are within the Republican range I laid out above. CA-7 was a nail biter for Ami Bera in 2014 and his opponent, Scott Jones, is a decent candidate. Jones could make it close but Bera is only vulnerable if the scandal involving his father touches him. His father has already confessed. There appears to be no connection to Bera, but this is politics. We're already in the mud. We can't say definitively the scandal won't touch Bera. Even if Bera didn't act criminally, the slightest doubt in people's minds could tip the scales to Jones. Even unfounded rumors have sunk candidates before.

Jim Costa in CA-16 probably isn't in danger but his opponent, Johnny Tacherra is the same one that finished less than 2 points behind him in 2014. Pete Aguilar faces a rematch with Paul Chabot in CA-31. Like Costa, Aguilar had a close call in 2014. CA-24 is an open seat. Democrat Salud Carbajal was strong in the primary but open seats in swing districts aren't as secure as districts with incumbents.

As of now, I wouldn't bet on competitive congressional races. But we're still five months from the November election.

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