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Jacob Heilbrunn Liberalism Politics US Politics

Welcome to the jungle: Centrist Democrats charge through California primaries

Moderates held off challenges from the far-left and right through their state’s unorthodox electoral system.

June 6, 2018

3:16 PM

6 June 2018

3:16 PM

Once upon a time California was a Republican redoubt, sending the likes of Richard M. Nixon and Ronald Reagan to the White House. In recent decades, however, the popularity of the GOP has cratered. In 2016 Donald Trump lost the state by over four million votes to Hillary Clinton. CNBC reports that the number of registered Republicans has sunk from 36 per cent in 1997 to around 25 per cent. Democrats constitute about 45 per cent of the state’s total registered voters.

Yesterday’s primary election offered another reminder of how far the mighty have fallen. The Golden State’s Republicans are celebrating the fact that they even managed to get a candidate, the San Diego businessman John H. Cox, on the November ballot. Cox, who has earned the commendation of President Trump, will run against the liberal Democrat Gavin Newsom, the state’s lieutenant governor and former mayor of San Francisco. Newsom could be a future presidential candidate; he’s captured national headlines by backing universal health care and same sex marriage as a mayor. Lately he’s been shifting to the centre: “I’m not going to be a profligate Democrat.” By contrast, Cox is a study in obscurity; over half the state’s likely voters don’t even know who he is. He has about as much chance of defeating Newsom as LeBron James does of being invited to the Trump White House.

Democrats vying for a congressional seat also appear to have survived California’s so-called jungle primary intact. As they battle to take win control of the House of Representatives in November, the fear among Democrats was that they would be locked out on the ballot as only the top two candidates get to face off in the November general election under California’s unusual primary system. In the 48th District, where Democrats are eager to knock off Dana Rohrabacher, the combined GOP vote was down from 67.1 percent in the 2014 primary to 48.5 percent. Rohrabacher, however, came in with a solid 30 percent of the vote. He will face off against the Democratic businessman Harley Rouda who sent out a tweet today declaring, “Today 70% of voters in #CA48 rejected the failed hateful politics of @RepRohrabacher. We’re ready for a new day in Orange County.” In the 39th District, Democrats scored with Gil Cisernos, a Navy Veteran.

The Democratic party establishment, which intervened in a number of elections to back candidates, often came under heavy criticism for trying to stack the deck. But the interventions to pick and back likely winners appear to have worked. Overall, the Democrats remained disciplined. Socialist firebrand Bernie Sanders’ candidates flamed out. In Iowa, for example, former Sanders campaign aide Pete d’Alessandro came in third place in the Third congressional district. And California Senator Dianne Feinstein crushed her challenger, State Senate leader Kevin de Leon, who assailed her as too far to the right, by over 30 percentage points.

The bottom line? The Democrats survived the jungle intact. For now they can continue to indulge in some California Dreamin’.


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