These are days of optimism, maybe even delusion, for the California Republican Party, which hasn’t won a statewide race of any kind since 2006.
Despite the fact that Democrats won majorities in June primary races for five out of the seven statewide constitutional offices, the GOP still thinks it can win at least one slot. But that’s not likely, no matter how healthy it might to have folks from two parties in office..
Republicans’ thinking might be epitomized by former state party chairman Ron Nehring, now running for lieutenant governor. Nehring took just 23.8 percent of the primary vote, while incumbent Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom won 49.9 percent – just a few votes show of a majority – but Nehring believes he achieved a lot in June.
True, he did land a slot in the November runoff. But he won just 976,000 votes, compared with 2,082,000 for Newsom. Democrats together netted better than 55.5 percent of the total vote for that office.
Add to this the fact that June saw a record-low turnout of all voters, the Democratic vote depressed even further than the GOP’s. If the pattern of the last non-presidential statewide runoff election holds again, almost twice as many voters will fill out ballots this fall as last spring, the increase even greater among Democrats.
And yet, Nehring says of his spring performance, “Our campaign finished strong.” He called Newsom “the weakest link” among Democrats, noting that of the five incumbent Democrats seeking reelection, Newsom was the only one not getting a clear majority in the June vote.
As a side note, this goes to show the idiocy of a top two primary election law provision that forces primary candidates who win clear majorities to run again in November. Almost certainly, that will be a complete waste of everyone’s time, money and attention this fall, as Gov. Jerry Brown (54.3 percent) and the other majority-winning Democrats will likely roll up margins at least as large as their primary edges.
But still, Republicans like Nehring believe they can pull off upsets. They are looking closely at the campaigns for state controller and secretary of state.
In the run for controller, the state’s check-writing officer, Republican Mayor Ashley Swearengin of Fresno topped all primary vote-getters with 24.8 percent, while the total GOP vote came to 44.8 percent. If every GOP vote cast in the primary wound up with Swearengin, she would still be about 5 percent behind the total Democratic vote. Another 6 percent of primary voters went for Green Party candidate Laura Wells, who will not be on the fall ballot. It’s a good bet most of her votes will go Democratic this time – not to mention the fact that Democratic turnout in general will be up more than the GOP’s.
So no matter how attractive and solid a candidate Swearengin may be – and she is both – it’s pure delusion to think she’s the fall favorite, as some in the GOP now bill her.
Over in the run for secretary of state, another solid and attractive Republican candidate was the leading vote-getter on primary election day, but not after all absentee and provisional ballots were counted. By then, Republican Pete Peterson, a Pepperdine University professor, trailed Democratic state Sen. Alex Padilla by more than 22,000 votes. Meanwhile, the total Democratic vote came to about 55 percent, so for Peterson to win in November, he’d need to win over about one-tenth of all voters who went Democratic in the spring, plus all those who voted Green and the 9 percent who went for Independent Dan Schnur, an academic who formerly was a GOP political operative. Plus a majority of the voters who didn’t turn out for the primary.
The upshot is that it’s highly unlikely any Republican can win any statewide office this fall, no matter how wishful their thinking may be just ahead of Election Day.
Which means Democratic consultant Garry South’s conclusion in a memo about the controller’s race also applies to the contests for secretary of state and lieutenant governor: “When you hear the spin from Republicans about how Swearengin is a truly viable candidate in the general election – she finished first in the primary, she’s an attractive and media-savvy candidate, blah, blah, blah – compare it to the actual metrics… and this ain’t happenin’ for Swearengin.” Nor for Peterson and Nehring.
No matter how comforting Republican illusions may be today.