Election Day: Questions, What to Look For and a Few Predictions

Voting boothElection primary day is finally here in California. Watching much of the rest of the country’s voters engage in the process of choosing presidential nominees is little more than a spectator sport for Californians. While the choices of whom to vote for have been limited by those other states’ voters, Californians now will get a chance to speak through the ballot. Other important races will be decided, as well, and analysts will be looking for trends that could indicate how November campaigns turn out.

A few items to think about and a look into a cloudy and cracked crystal ball:

The Presidential Campaigns

Questions/What to Look For: Is the reported surge in Democratic registration a sign that the Bernie Sanders campaign is bringing in new voters? Will they show up on Election Day? On the Republican side, does Trump’s presumptive nominee status keep some Republicans away from the polls affecting down ticket races? Is there a protest vote against Trump by some GOP voters who either skip the presidential ballot or vote for another name in the Republican column?

Prediction: Hillary Clinton wins the Democratic primary by a larger margin than the 2-percent edge most polls have been predicting. A protest vote against Trump will be measured by his securing about 75% of the Republicans who vote, meaning one-quarter of the Republicans are not satisfied with the GOP presumptive nominee.

U.S. Senate

Questions/What to Look for: Will Attorney General Kamala Harris have a large commanding lead over the second place finisher or will the race be within 10-15%. If the latter, and that second place finisher is Congress member Loretta Sanchez, that will set up an interesting fall campaign for the first major seat affected by the top two primary. Will Latino voters rally to Sanchez in big numbers? (And how will that affect the thinking of those considering statewide races in 2018? I’m thinking of you, Antonio.)

Prediction: Harris has a comfortable win. If Sanchez qualifies for the finals, her fall campaign will turn on how Sanchez manages to find the sweet spot of corralling enough Democrats while attracting a strong Republican vote.

Shaping the Legislature

Questions/What to Look for: Outside competing interests are pouring in big money to help shape a legislature supportive of their issues. Will a trend of more business friendly Democrats continue to blossom or will labor and progressive candidates score big? Much of the independent expenditures come from advocates on both sides of education and environmental issues and success could lead to dramatic changes on how those issues are addressed by the next legislature. If the environmental candidates do well, will that increase the interest of environmentalist/financial player Tom Steyer to consider a gubernatorial run? Will a dominant Democratic showing increase the chances of the Democrats securing supermajorities in both houses in November? Or will supermajority even matter if a large number of Democratic victors are considered pro-business Democrats?

Prediction: Californians deep-blue hue will only become deeper—at least on the surface. However, business will do well enough to make for some interesting top two runoffs in November and keep the intramural conflicts within the Democratic Party active.

Local Measures

Questions/What to Look for: Many tax and bond measures appear on local ballots. Will success or failure of these measures be a harbinger for how voters will respond to statewide tax and bond measures in the fall? Will success of a nine-county parcel tax to protect the San Francisco Bay mean more regional ventures around the state in the future?

Predictions: According to the historical record, a large number of the tax and bond measures pass at the local level. That record remains intact. However, this may not be an indication of how voters will respond to statewide measures in November. The statewide measures often have more sophisticated opposition campaigns than local measures face. If the San Francisco Bay parcel taxes pass–close, but I think the measure will pass–it will encourage those who believe dealing with some of California’s problems over a sprawling area calls for regional solutions and we will see more efforts in that direction.

This piece was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Record Voter Registration in California

As reported by the Wall Street Journal:

LOS ANGELES—Amid a surge in voter interest stoked by the presidential race, nearly 18 million Californians had registered to vote by Tuesday’s elections—the highest number ever for any state before a primary, according to the California Secretary of State’s office.

That figure compares with about 17.2 million registered voters before the state’s 2012 presidential primaries, according to the office.

California officials reported a boom in residents registering as Democrats within the last 45 days of the sign-up period before Tuesday’s primary. During that time about 500,000 Californians newly registered or re-registered as Democrats, 136,000 as Republicans and 60,000 without a party preference.

Of all the state’s registered voters, the office said 44.8% are Democrats, 27.3% Republicans and 23.3% have no party affiliation. Minor-party registrations make up the rest. …

Click here to read the full article

How CA Can Avoid CNBC Debate Debacle During Election Season

VotedThose considering hosting debates in the coming California elections should take lessons from the mishandling of the current presidential debates and take advantage of the state’s unique primary system to offer real issue-oriented debates.

The recent Republican Presidential Debate on CNBC received more blowback for the way the debate was handled than what the candidates had to say.   Now the Republican National Committee is suspending its relationship with NBC and affiliated organizations over future debates because of the debate questions while the candidates are in open revolt over how the debates should be handled.

While candidates would love to control the debates, the media, which usually moderates the debates, cannot give up journalistic independence.

With future presidential debates rapidly approaching and expected California debates for the U.S. Senate around the corner, is there a better way to handle debates than what we saw last week?

John Pitney, Professor of American Politics at Claremont McKenna College, thinks there is.

“The best format is simply to have the candidates on stage with no press questions.  Give candidates fixed amounts of time to make statements and respond to one another.  Set the microphones to go on and off automatically so that the candidates cannot filibuster or dicker with a moderator for extra time.  Set the order of speaking by random chance.  If the number of candidates becomes unwieldy, randomly assign them to two or more debates,” Pitney wrote in an email.

He has some other suggestions that would heighten the seriousness of the debates.

“Do the whole thing without a studio audience.  No cheers, no boos, just the words of the people running for office,” Pitney suggests. “The basic idea is to take the media out of the process as much as possible, and let the candidates speak for themselves.  Make it a debate, not a circus.”

Pitney wrote that this format would work for California senatorial or gubernatorial debates as well. Because California has the top-two primary system, Pitney argued that Republicans and Democrats should appear together on the same debate stage.

Such a format would lend itself to a real exchange of contrasting ideas on substantive issues.

One side-effect–the viewership ratings could go down if the “circus” atmosphere is removed. Is that a bad thing under the circumstances?

Originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

The Unintended Consequences of CA’s Top Two Primary System

California’s new “top-two” primary system has some Golden State Democrats worried. Though they’re confident about holding onto the seat being vacated by departing U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer in 2016, Democrats may come to rue the new set-up, which allows the two top vote-getters to advance to the general election, regardless of party affiliation. In a low-turnout primary crowded with vote-splitting Democratic candidates, it’s not out of the question that two Republicans could lead the field. That almost happened in one of last year’s statewide primaries.

In the June 2014 primary for state controller, two Republicans squared off against three Democrats and a Green Party candidate. Republican David Evans, an unknown accountant from Central California, spent just $600 on the race but managed to garner 850,109 votes thanks to his bare-bones ballot statement—“Most qualified for Controller”—and the clever ballot designation he put after his name: “Chief Financial Officer.” Fresno mayor Ashley Swearengin (a Republican) eventually won the primary, but Evans held the second-place spot for several days while votes were counted—putting him ahead of the two leading Democrats—until he was finally edged out. He finished fourth, with less than one percentage point separating him from the second-place finisher, Democrat Betty Yee. If Evans had held on, two Republicans would have competed in the general election, ensuring the first statewide GOP victory in almost a decade. Yee went on to beat Swearengin in November.

For Democrats, it was an uncomfortably close call. Democratic political consultant Garry South summarized the implications: “One of the lessons we’ve learned in ’12, and now in ’14, is that in a very low turnout primary, which this was, with a disproportionate share of Republicans turning out, Democrats have to be careful they don’t overload the ballot with candidates splitting too few Democratic voters.” These are the conditions of almost every California primary, however.

Reformers had hoped that the top-two primary structure would put more moderates on the general election ballot. It’s not yet clear that this is occurring. What’s certain is that the system is proving problematic for California’s Democrats, who have long dominated statewide offices. The reasons are two-fold. First, as South describes, with lower turnouts and higher percentages of Republicans participating, primaries are more challenging for California Democrats. Total voter participation figures still favor Democrats in these races, but it’s a much closer split than in the general election. Second, with a deeper bench of potential candidates, California Democrats have too many contenders for a limited number of statewide offices.

Even in traditional primaries, operatives of both parties have long practiced the art of “clearing the field” to limit the number of candidates on the ballot. The top-two primary amplifies the importance of field-clearing. Paradoxically, the new system was meant to weaken the political parties’ sway over the primary process, but it may wind up strengthening it. A reform intended to increase options for voters might actually reduce them.

The 2016 Senate primary is already exposing potential cleavages on the Democratic side. The first Democrat to declare for the seat being vacated by Boxer is state attorney general Kamala Harris, a woman of Jamaican-American and Indian descent. But discontent is mounting among Latino Democrats. The California Latino Legislative Caucus recently made a public call for a Latino to run for the Senate seat. Former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa contemplated a run but bowed out this week. Latino attentions have shifted to Orange County congresswoman Loretta Sanchez and Los Angeles congressman Xavier Becerra.

As Los Angeles Times Sacramento columnist George Skelton recently wrote, “Latinos feel insulted by blacks. Angelenos are suspicious of San Franciscans. Democrats are squabbling. It’s inevitable. It’s the unintended consequence of a one-party dominated state.” And the unintended consequence of a top-two primary system may well be to exacerbate these conflicts.