Now that the June primary is behind us, pundits and political observers are on overdrive telling us what it all means and what we can expect from the fall campaign.
Perhaps we should all pause before writing the June primary’s eulogy as hundreds of thousands of votes remain to be counted. Speaking at a recent Sacramento Press Club primary post-mortem, political data guru Paul Mitchell cautioned that we still don’t know even know how high the turnout was. Don’t pay attention to current turnout figures, he said. Turnout will grow toward 30 percent or more as votes continue to be counted. Counting will continue until the election is certified July 13.
What we do know is that this November, California faces a top-2 battle for governor between Democrat Gavin Newsom and Republican John Cox. (Side note – It’s important to get the campaign terminology right. As our friend John Myers of the LA Times noted on Twitter, the November election is not a runoff, nor was Tuesday’s election a “jungle” primary.)
One issue that could favor Republicans is the measure to repeal the $52 billion gas tax increase. One panelist said that it would play a significant role in the votes of working class voters, as rising gas prices are a significant pocketbook issue for them. Asked whether this would boost Cox’s chances in deep blue California – each of the Democrat and Republican campaign pros on the Press Club panel said no.
California also faces several hotly-contested congressional races with national implications. Many national pundits on election night spoke of a “blue wave” running through California. Mitchell aptly said that a blue wave probably won’t impact California any more than normal since we’re always in a blue wave here in the Golden State.
It should be noted that in these top 7 congressional races, combined Republican votes surpassed 50 percent in all but 1. When factoring in the in-and-outs of the campaigns, the personalities of the candidates, and no party preference voters who vote in higher numbers in general elections than primaries, it’s unclear whether the strong showing of GOP congressional candidates on Tuesday means they are home free in November.
What will we be watching for this November? On the most recent episode of PRI’s podcast, the “PRI All Stars” discussed the races they’ll be watching most closely this fall. Kerry Jackson said that he will be watching the initiative battles, including a hotly-contested measure to expand rent control in California. Ben Smithwick said he is interested in the congressional races, particularly the congressional races of Republican incumbents Dana Rohrabacher and Steve Knight.
And I’ll be watching the Lieutenant Governor’s race, which will be a top-2 contest between businesswoman Eleni Kounalakis and Sen. Ed Hernandez, both Democrats. I wrote about this race earlier this year. In my view, Republicans – and the extent to which they cast a ballot in this all-Democrat affair or don’t – will determine the outcome of this race.
Stay tuned to PRI’s podcast and the Right by the Bay blog for coverage and analysis of all the top races facing voters as the campaign heats up.
Tim Anaya is communications director for the Pacific Research Institute.