As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Post-Mortem On the California Primaries

I think the results of yesterday's primaries had some good news and some bad, and also brought to light the depressing realities of California politics.

Turnout was horrendous. These numbers will go up, but with all precincts reporting we're looking at 22% turnout, the lowest in recent memory, far lower than 2006 and 2004. There still is not much of a real political culture in California with respect to state politics, and I think that's something we have to recognize. I saw a lot of activism and citizen-led activity leading up to these primaries which made me somewhat hopeful, but it did not translate at the ballot box. Of course, with so many uncontested primaries there was little at stake. But as a measure of intensity of the electorate, there wasn't much.

IE campaigns win elections. The outsized influence of IE campaigns is something we have to understand and work with. Even the races where, as Robert said, progressives won in state legislature primaries, there were in general a lot of IEs, funded mostly by labor, on their behalf. Rod Wright basically bought a seat in SD-25, with well over a million dollars of independent expenditures funded mostly by tobacco and business interests. And the size of Bob Blumenfield's victory in AD-40 suggests the importance of IEs. There isn't going to be a lot of appetite for reforming this from a set of state legislators who have IEs to thank for their positions in office. Clean money elections is obviously the killer app, and I'm glad Loni Hancock will be in the State Senate to carry the bill, but it's pretty depressing how easily these seats can be bought, particularly in low-turnout primaries where almost nobodyis paying attention.

Measuring Congressional intensity. Looking at turnout numbers in the primaries isn't really a great measure of how the candidates will do in the general elections, but it's a good benchmark of base support. Among the winners were Bill Durston (within 8,000 votes of Dan Lungren) and Charlie Brown (just nipped by Tom McClintock in raw votes, but he got 42,000-plus out to vote for him in one of the highest-turnout elections anywhere). Among the losers? Well, pretty much everyone else. But Nick Leibham can't be happy about his totals, and he has a MAJOR activist support problem in the 50th district that he has to recognize and fix. Russ Warner did sort of in the middle, well enough but with the need for improvement. Considering she faced two challengers, Julie Bornstein didn't do too badly either.

Incumbency can be defeated, but it's tough. Carole Migden is something like the first incumbent to be beaten in a primary in California in a dozen years. Mervyn Dymally was a sitting Assemblyman and something of a legendary figure so I'll call him a sort-of beaten incumbent. But it took lots of money to unseat these two and they had their share of political scandal. Otherwise, it's just real hard to get your message out.

PDA is less than worthless. I love and respect my friends in Progressive Democrats of America for their advocacy of progressive causes. As an electoral engine, they are simply not a legitimate organization. Only Cheryl Ede can hold her head up high as a PDA-backed candidate, and honestly I think that had more to do with Leibham than her. Mary Pallant had PDA backing, more resources than the other two candidates in the race, and was thrashed by someone who suspended her candidacy and came back just weeks before the vote. It takes more than screaming about the system and emailing frantically back and forth and writing resolutions to build a power base, and PDA needs to learn in a hurry.

The legislative battlegrounds. I'm very excited by Manuel Perez' win in AD-80, where he was the only candidate to show strength in all parts of the district (he actually finished a close second in both Riverside and Imperial Counties). He has a lot of momentum going into November against Gary Jeandron, the former sheriff of Palm Springs. And Democrats got about 5,000 more votes than Republicans in that seat. If Perez can unify the factions, he wins. AD-78 looks good, too. Marty Block squeaked out a win, and overall Democrats got over 8,000 more votes. Joan Buchanan did well in AD-15 and has a decent base of support - this will be a close race against Abram Wilson. I like what Alyson Huber did in AD-10, getting more votes than anyone on the ballot, Republican or Democratic. In AD-26, John Eisenhut, a farmer, got almost as many votes in his unopposed primary as Republican Bill Berryhill did in his. Ferial Masry is a longshot in AD-37, but the Democratic vote was within 5,000 of Republican Audra Strickland's total. Those are the 6 races that get us to 2/3.

In the State Senate, we'll see what becomes of the Morris write-in. But the good news was in SD-19, where Hannah-Beth Jackson got 47,000-plus votes to Tony Strickland's 50,000-plus. That's relative parity, and a good place to be. Because of the coattails Barack Obama will bring, I don't mind some deficit between Democratic and Republican numbers in the primary, because there will be lots and lots of new voters coming out to support the nominee in the fall who will pull the lever for downticket candidates.

That's what I've got for now, I'm sure we'll all be poring over the numbers in the days to come.

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