Democrats have long known one of the major realities of California politics: Far more voters turn out for November general elections every two years than in primary elections.
The main reason: November ballots always feature either a race for president or governor. This realization was the big reason most ballot propositions disappeared from primary election ballots almost 10 years ago. The Democrats in firm control of Sacramento figured liberal-oriented initiatives they back would likely fare better in the fall, amid the higher turnout, with more young voters and minorities marking ballots than during the springtime preliminaries.
Control of Congress starting in December might actually hinge on the accuracy of this truism, on which Democrats have staked much of their future.
Why? Because of gerrymandering in several Republican-controlled states, Democrats need to hold all their California seats in the House this fall, plus take away a few slots from Republicans, or lose their majority. Only a fall Democratic vote far larger than the party’s June primary turnout can accomplish this.
Take one of the seats that – improbably – now is on the national wish list of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee: The newly drawn 3rd Congressional District, covering much of Placer County and several neighboring areas.
Here, Republican Assemblyman Kevin Kiley (winner of 3.5 percent of the vote in the Gavin Newsom recall election one year ago) got 40 percent of primary votes in this nearly lily white district, barely beating out Democrat Kermit Jones, a physician. But altogether, the GOP took 56 percent of the district’s votes, ending up with a majority of almost 32,000.
For Jones to overcome that deficit and make this seat Democratic in an area most of which previously voted steadfastly for the arch-conservative Tom McClintock (who switched to a new, safer district this year) would take a massive increase in turnout that goes almost 100 percent Democratic.
That’s not very likely, so Democrats had better not be figuring on finding this wish-list item in their Christmas stockings.
Democrats’ motive for pouring money into races likely to go Republican, even if the district lines are newly redrawn, is clear: They will lose ground in states like Florida and Louisiana, where newly-drawn districts are designed to favor Republicans while concentrating Democrats in a very few districts, barring enormous upsets. They plainly hope the Supreme Court’s reversing it’s almost 50-year-old Roe v. Wade decision on abortion rights will push droves of young women to the polls while trying to get those rights restored.
Another unlikely seat Democrats hope to turn blue now belongs to Young Kim, covering parts of Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
Yes, in that 40th District, Democrat Asif Mahmood took 40 percent of the primary vote, while Republican Kim got just 35 percent of all ballots. But GOP candidates combined to win 59 percent of the total vote, and barring a major shift, Kim figures to get about that much in the runoff.
Democrats do have a shot at winning in other longtime Republican areas. In the new 22nd District covering much of Kern, Kings and Tulare counties, Democratic state Assemblyman Rudy Salas took 45 percent of the primary vote, while Republican incumbent David Valadao drew 55 percent. A significantly larger total vote driven by the anti-abortion decision could push Salas into the House.
Yet, national Democrats are leaving Salas mostly to his own devices, perhaps because Valadao is one of the few Republicans in Congress who have displayed some independence. He was one of only 10 GOPers who voted to impeach ex-President Donald Trump in early 2021 and voted for an abortion rights bill at midsummer. That may have been enough to keep the Democrats’ campaign committee from dropping millions into this part of Central California.
But Valadao has a prior history as an abortion opponent, which might have more impact now than it did in June.
The bottom line: It’s highly possible Democrats could knock off two or three current House Republicans, but unlikely this by itself would be enough to retain control of the House. But the Supreme Court’s ruling has upset enough Americans that almost any outcome is possible.
Email Thomas Elias at firstname.lastname@example.org.