How California Voted: Dems Avoid Shutouts In Key Congressional Races

Returns are still preliminary, but it appears that several crucial races for the U.S. House narrowly avoided disaster — but Democrats in the California state Senate lost their supermajority.

Retiring Congressperson Ed Royce’s district was one that national Democrats feared they might be shut out of after today’s primary. (United States Congress)

Heading into today’s primary, one major worry was that intense liberal enthusiasm and a surplus of viable candidates would result in Democrats in several key Southern California congressional races cannibalizing one another. Because California’s top-two primary system pits all contenders against one another regardless of party affiliation, a hypothetical House race with two Republicans and many more Democrats could easily result in those two Republicans cruising into the general election, their feisty challengers reduced to dust. Prognosticators feared this might happen in as many as four races — and with Democrats in need of 24 seats nationally to take back the House of Representatives, forfeiting even one in this manner could cost the party dearly.

Compounding matters further, California voted so overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump that she won seven GOP-held seats, which amounts to half of California’s 14-member Republican delegation. In other words, these seats might not be gimmes, but they are very winnable — as long as a quirk of the system didn’t undermine the Democrats.

This nightmare scenario is the inverse of what appears to have happened to the GOP in the race for U.S. Senate as of 1:30 a.m. Wednesday. Two Democrats (incumbent Sen. Dianne Feinstein and state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin De León) will compete in November, since Republican James Bradley came in third place with 9 percent. That’s a hugely significant turn of events, as no general election for Senate — in any state in the country — has resulted in the shutout of one of the two major parties in more than 100 years. It also looks as if there will be no Republican contender for lieutenant governor, either.

The sole blemish on tonight’s otherwise across-the-board success came in a state Senate race, where Democratic Sen. Josh Newman of Fullerton went down to defeat in the first recall of a state legislator since 1995. His support for the controversial gas tax sealed his fate. This deprives the Democrats of their supermajority in the state legislature’s upper chamber, although they’ve technically operated without it since Sen. Tony Mendoza resigned in February over sexual-harassment allegations.

 

Here’s the breakdown of how the primary played out in the races for Congress, using the latest available numbers.

In CA-10, Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Turlock) is running for a fifth term in this Central Valley seat. As Republicans go, Denham isn’t especially cruel, having been a rare voice in his party to support DACA. (The district is 40 percent Latino, although the electorate skews much whiter.) But with 71 percent of precincts reporting, Democrat Josh Harder appears to have headed off Republican Ted Howze to take a distant second place.

In CA-39, a district that straddles the triple junction of Los Angeles, Orange, and San Bernardino counties, several candidates vied to replace retiring Rep. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton). Gil Cisneros, a Republican-turned-Democrat who might be most notable for winning a $266 million lottery jackpot appears to be headed to a second-place finish, which means he’ll face Republican Young Kim in an election that is expected to be quite close. The Democratic intraparty squabbles got very weird in this one, with accusations of a bizarre threatening voicemail muddying the waters. Still, Clinton won the district 52-43, and obviously, Cisneros can self-fund to his heart’s content.

In CA-48, Dana Rohrabacher is running for an 11th term in this Huntington Beach-anchored seat, which stretches across most of the Orange County coast. A staunch conservative who’s as pro-Russia as he is anti-immigration, he was the guy who fellow California Republican — and potential future Speaker of the House — Kevin McCarthy said was one of two people he thought Vladimir Putin paid. (The other was Donald Trump.) In any case, Clinton narrowly won the district in 2016 and the 70-year-old Rohrabacher is a top target, and two Democrats, Harley Rouda and Hans Keirstead, are running neck and neck for the privilege of taking him on in November.

Lastly, in CA-49, just to the south of CA-48, Republican Darrell Issa is retiring. The richest member of Congress with a $330 million fortune earned mostly from car alarms, Issa’s district’s demographics have changed under him. After voting foor Romney by 52-46, it swung 14 points to the Democrats, and Clinton carried it 51-43. Diane Harkey is the Republican hoping to replace Issa, but she took only about 25 percent of the vote, with Democrats Mike Levin, Sara Jacobs, and Doug Applegate in a virtual three-way tie. Alarmingly for the GOP, they won a cumulative 45 percent of the vote in the 16-way race, which implies strong turnout on the liberal side. Also, if Jacobs were to triumph, the 29-year-old would be the youngest woman ever elected to the House.

In three other races for GOP-held seats that the nonpartisan Cook Political Report considers to be toss-ups or “lean Republican”CA-21, CA-25, and CA-45 — a Democratic challenger easily advanced to face the incumbent in November. Altogether, these seven seats range from D+5 to R+4, which means that even the most difficult of them is only four points more Republican than the national average of all 435 seats.

In other words, these are winnable seats for Democrats in an average year. 2018 might be a wave year. If the Democrats need to win 24 seats to secure a majority and establish a beachhead in the fight against the Trump agenda, almost one-third of that margin could come from California.

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