When all was said and done, primary election day in California did not live up to expectations for either side of the political divide. Though political operatives – knowing how these things usually turn out – are probably not stunned by the results, less knowledgeable partisan observers will be struggling to interpret the outcome as a vindication of their respective expectations. While there was little to indicate that the anticipated blue wave will obliterate California’s Republican districts, neither was there any sign that this solidly Democratic state would be turning red any time soon.
The so-called jungle primary is about candidates rather than party. Both Republicans and Democrats compete against each other, in contrast to most other states that hold separate primaries for each party. In each race, the two candidates with the most votes go on to fight it out in the midterm elections, regardless of party affiliation. The system provides the opportunity for both parties to load the ballot with candidates in the hope that two of them will finish in first and second place, thus ensuring victory for their party and shutting out the opposition.
Republican Secures Gubernatorial Challenge
For Democrats, then, the expectation was that most congressional districts would be contested, in November, by two of their candidates. For Republicans, the hope had been that a glut of Democratic candidates would split the primary votes, thus giving their own candidates a greater chance of finishing in the top two. Some on the right even predicted a red wave in California, as voters vent their anger at the state’s ever more radical leftist leadership. This was not to be, however.
Democrat hopes for an all-blue gubernatorial race have been dashed. While Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom won Tuesday’s primary, Republican businessman John Cox claimed the right to challenge him, beating out the other Democratic candidate, Antonio Villaraigosa, by double digits.
Senator Diane Feinstein claimed a comfortable win despite not having the endorsement of the California Democratic Party. Her midterm challenger will be fellow Democrat Kevin de León who narrowly beat Republican James Bradley to claim second place in the primary.
Incumbents Run the Table
Of all 53 California congressional districts in which a sufficient number of precincts have reported to be able to call the race (as of this writing), almost all produced the same result; the incumbent – whether Republican or Democrat – finished first and their challenger in the midterm elections will be a candidate from the opposing party.
There were a few exceptions. Incumbent Paul Cook and fellow Republican Tim Donnelly placed first and second, respectively, in the eighth district primary; shutting out three Democratic challengers. In the 44th district, Democratic incumbent Nanette Barragan and Fellow Democrat Aja Brown beat out two Republicans. In nine districts – all with Democratic incumbents – no Republicans were on the ballot.
In the 31st district, Republican Sean Flynn narrowly defeated incumbent Democrat Pete Aguilar to set up a rematch in November. Two California Republicans, Darrell Issa and Edward Royce, will not be seeking re-election. Both of those district primaries were won comfortably by Republican candidates, but both will face Democratic challengers in the midterms.
For Democrats, A Trickle, But No Wave
In the final analysis, both parties can spin the California results as a victory, of sorts. While Democrats come away with the opportunity to flip two or three Republican districts, they failed in their ultimate objective of pushing Republicans out of the state’s congressional delegation altogether. Republicans currently represent 14 districts in the state. Worse case scenario for them in November is that they will retain control of only 10 of those.
If Democrats think they will be running the House of Representatives in January 2019, they will need to flip several seats in the Golden State and still hope for a strong showing in several other states. For them, it is not so much a blue wave that will bring them victory as the ability to pick off enough Republican seats in five or six blue states. For Republicans, it will be all about holding the line and, while a net loss of seats is all but inevitable in California, they look capable of keeping that loss to a minimum.
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