Six races to watch in the California primary

A progressive prosecutor trying to stave off a recall effort amid growing concerns over crime. A tight mayoral race in Los Angeles with tens of millions of dollars already spent by one candidate alone. A Republican congresswoman who narrowly won her last election, now up against contenders on both sides.

These are just some of the colorful elections voters will weigh in on Tuesday in California.

California has what’s known as a “jungle” primary system for congressional, state constitutional and state legislative offices. For these offices, all the candidates are included under one ballot and the two candidates, regardless of their political party, who receive the highest number of votes move on to the general election.  

That means that two Democrats or two Republicans, for example, could move on to their respective general election in November. California’s voter-nominated offices do not apply for the presidential, county central committee and local offices. 

Additionally, San Francisco voters will get to participate in another high-profile recall campaign, less than a year after Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) managed to fight off an effort to oust him and just months after three members of the city’s school board were recalled.

Here’s a look at six elections we’re keeping an eye on ahead of next week’s primary on Tuesday.

District attorney recall election in San Francisco

Chesa Boudin (D) is fighting to retain his spot as district attorney in San Francisco amid a recall effort that paints him as a progressive who is not tough enough on crime.

The chief prosecutor for the city was elected in 2019 and has argued that he has already made progress in his role as San Francisco’s DA.

“We’ve increased charging rates for everything from sexual assaults to homicides to drug sales.  We’re clearing the backlog of old cases languishing under my predecessor,” Boudin told KTVU in an interview published on Wednesday.

Under his term, Boudin has also freed one man who spent decades in prison after creating a wrongful conviction unit and placed on-duty manslaughter charges on an officer, a first for his position, according to The Guardian.

But voters will decide in a ballot measure on Tuesday if Boudin is still the right candidate for the job. Since January 2020, dozens of lawyers have either been fired or resigned from his office, according to NBC Bay Area. Several have also backed the effort to recall him.

His handling of addiction, violence and homelessness have also been scrutinized by officials. San Francisco became one city of several around the holiday season last year to suffer from a spate of lootings.

“While Chesa is not responsible for everything that’s happening in this city,  he has a job as the district attorney to set a tone to let criminals know there is accountability and consequences for their actions,” Brooke Jenkins, a former prosecutor at Boudin’s office, told KTVU in an interview.

Some of the people financially backing the recall effort include billionaire investor William Oberndorf, SV Angel managing partner Topher Conway and former HR executive Louise Muhlfeld, The San Francisco Standard reported.

Should the recall be successful, San Francisco Mayor London Breed would choose his successor.

Los Angeles mayor’s election 

Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) announced last year she would be running for the mayoral election in Los Angeles and not seeking another term in Congress in the upcoming midterms. 

The current mayor, Eric Garcetti (D), was tapped by President Biden to be the U.S. ambassador to India, though several senators have put a hold on his confirmation regarding his handling of sexual harassment allegations toward Rick Jacobs, his former chief of staff. 

Bass has received endorsements from high-profile organizations and politicians, including from Emily’s List, Sierra Club, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.)

Among the many contenders vying for Garcetti’s spot include  real estate developer Rick Caruso, considered another front-runner in the race, and has received endorsements from Elon Musk and Kim Kardashian. 

Additionally, Caruso’s campaign has spent over $23 million, a staggering sum of money for a mayoral race.

Bass raised close to $2 million in less than her first 100 days since she launched her campaign, her campaign reported in January. Since the start of 2022, Bass raised over $1 million, filings given to the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission show, The Los Angeles Times reported.

Los Angeles County sheriff’s election

Los Angeles County Sheriff ​​Alex Villanueva (D) is fighting for a second term after he was elected in 2018 as the department is roiled in a slew of controversies, including most recently his handling of an incident last year in which a deputy knelt on an inmate’s neck for three minutes. 

Eight people are challenging Villanueva for his spot, including half a dozen former and current officials at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD), according to NBC Los Angeles.

Those challengers include: Sheriff Sgt. Karla Carranza, Sheriff Lt. Eric Strong, retired LASD commander Eli Vera, retired LASD assistant sheriff Cecil Rhambo, retired LASD Capts. Matt Rodriguez and Britta Steinbrenner, State Patrol Agent April Saucedo Hood and retired Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna.

Villanueva and his department have been in the spotlight in recent months amid a handful of controversies. 

A critic of vaccine mandates, the sheriff would not fire members of his own staff that did not cooperate with the county’s requirement instituted last year amid rising cases, pushing the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to strip him of his authority to enforce them. 

The department is also facing questions over alleged deputy gangs operating from within, prompting a civilian oversight panel to launch a probe in March. The Los Angeles Times reported in March that the department also allegedly tried to cover up a situation where an inmate’s head was knelt on by a deputy for three minutes, including footage of the occurrence.

The sheriff, for his part, has argued that he had a successful first term, telling NBC Los Angeles that “the Good ‘Ol Boy Network is gone” and that his department is a leader in the country on its diversity. He says he has tackled bigger campaign issues of his like making sure deputies are wearing body cameras. 

27th Congressional District 

Redistricting in California has shuffled incumbents around, including Rep. Mike Garcia (R-Calif.), who represents the 25th Congressional District and is now running in the 27th. 

He is considered the Republican front-runner in the race, though several other candidates from both parties are also wading in the race, including former California State Assemblywoman Christy Smith (D), who lost to Garcia two times in 2020 and is challenging him again.

Smith, who launched her campaign last year, was unsuccessful in capturing the seat twice in 2020, the first time in a special election after former Rep. Katie Hill (D-Calif.) resigned and then later for a full term in the November election later that year.

Garcia’s win both times in 2020 were stinging losses, given that his first win was the first time in more than 20 years that Republicans had flipped a blue district in California. In the second race, the margin of Smith’s loss was a mere 333 votes. 

Other candidates vying for the House seat include Simi Valley City Council Member Ruth Luevanos (D); Mark Pierce (R), who creates training materials for people who dole out contracts from the government; small business owner John Quaye Quartey (D); and business owner David Rudnick (R). 

The House is likely to be one of the most closely watched races this November as the Cook Political Report rates the Republican-held seat a “toss up.”

40th Congressional District 

Rep. Young Kim (R-Calif.), who narrowly won her House seat in 2020, is finding herself again defending her spot in Congress from several challengers, including one Trump-aligned Republican and a Democrat who reported surprising first quarter fundraising numbers for this year.

Retired Marine Col. Greg Raths (R) is challenging Kim for her seat, who currently serves the 39th Congressional District, dinging her on the campaign trail for trying to kick Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) out of her congressional assignments and her support for censuring former President Trump following the violent Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot, according to The New York Times. 

Though Kim said she supported censuring Trump, she voted against impeaching the president. 

“I believe impeaching the president at this time will fail to hold him accountable or allow us to move forward once President-elect Biden is sworn in. This process will only create more fissures in our country as we emerge from some of our darkest days,” she said in a statement in mid-January 2021, defending her stance against impeachment. 

Raths was apparently unsuccessful at trying to win Trump’s support after flying in February to a Mar-a-Lago event, the Times noted. 

Nick Taurus, who describes himself as “an American nationalist and Roman Catholic,” is also running as a Republican for the seat. 

Meanwhile, Kim is also facing a formidable Democrat challenger, Asif Mahmood, a Pakistan-born doctor, who hauled $1.4 million in the first quarter of fundraising for 2022.

It is a surprising amount given that the new eastern Orange County district has a partisan lean of four percentage points Republican, according to FiveThirtyEight, and has been rated by the Cook Political Report as “lean Republican.” 

Mahmood also has the backing of high-profile California Democrats like Gov. Gavin Newsom, Sen. Alex Padilla, Rep. Adam Schiff in addition to other lawmakers and politicians. 

49th Congressional District  

A slew of Republicans are eyeing the 49th Congressional District and aiming to take on incumbent Rep. Mike Levin (D). 

Among the Republican contenders looking to unseat Levin include Lisa Bartlett, the 5th District supervisor of the Orange County Board of Supervisors; former San Juan Capistrano Mayor Brian Maryott; San Diego County Deputy Sheriff Josiah O’Neil; Oceanside City Council Member Christopher Rodriguez; and information technology and cybersecurity manager Renee Taylor.

Nurse and businesswoman Nadia Smalley (D) is also running for the seat. 

Should Levin and Maryott earn the highest percentage of votes in their primary, it would set up a rematch between the two after Maryott lost to Levin in 2020. 

The seat leans 5 percentage points Democrat, according to FiveThirtyEight, and is rated “lean Democrat” by Cook Political Report. 

The new district is almost evenly divided between Democrats, Republicans and Independents, with 33.6 percent of the district including registered Republicans, 36 percent registered Democrats and Independents making up the rest, according to NBC 7 San Diego

Tags Eric Garcetti Gavin Newsom Karen Bass

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