California: Ground zero for the 2018 midterms

California: Ground zero for the 2018 midterms

Politics is full of ironies. It is ironic that California, a deep blue state that is often written off in presidential politics, (except when it comes to money) may be ground zero for the midterm elections. The Democrats’ goal of going after affluent, well-educated districts that are held by Republicans but were carried by Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe Memo: Trump faces steep climb to reelection What the Mueller report tells us about Putin, Russia and Trump's election Steve Bullock puts Citizens United decision at center of presidential push MORE in order to fashion a majority got a real boost in Tuesday’s primary.

First, a primer on the California system.

Simply stated, party primaries have been abolished in favor of allowing the top two finishers, regardless of party, to face each other in November. The Democrats’ fear that these laws would leave them locked out of those districts was unfounded. In district after district, the Democrats got what they wanted.


Statewide it was much the same. In the governor’s race, they got Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom as their nominee and three-time loser (in Illinois, no less) John Cox, a Republican, as an opponent with Antonio Villaraigosa, a Democrat and former mayor of Los Angeles, surprisingly running far behind Cox. Now, Newsom will not have to face a fellow Democrat and Latino leader in November. It could be argued that Cox will spur a Republican turnout but, although a Villaraigosa win would have guaranteed a Democratic victory, a Newsom-Villaraigosa showdown could have caused a rift between north and south and between the coalition partners they rely on.

They got what they wanted when 84-year-old Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinThis week: Democrats, White House set for infrastructure, budget talks Senate confirms Rosen for No. 2 spot at DOJ Senate confirms controversial 9th Circuit pick without blue slips MORE (D-Calif.) made mincemeat out of State Senate Leader Kevin DeLeon, making it clear that even though they will technically meet again in the general election, the battle has already been decided.

As far as the House seats are concerned, there are more ironies.

The 48th District was a win for both incumbent Congressman Dana RohrabacherDana Tyrone RohrabacherMueller probe: A timeline from beginning to end Progressives come to Omar's defense Expanding Social Security: Popular from sea to shining sea MORE (R) and the Democrats. They both got what they wanted. Rohrabacher will not have to face his one-time protégé Scott Baugh and the Democrats will have a candidate in the fall. Rohrabacher finished a strong first despite all the controversy over his foreign entanglements, a good sign for November, and the Democratic contest is so close between the second- and third-place finishers that it may be awhile before we know who will oppose him.

There is no question that the Democrats are well prepared to contest the open 39th and 49th districts being given up by Rep. Ed RoyceEdward (Ed) Randall RoyceFormer GOP chairman Royce joins lobbying shop Lawmakers propose banning shark fin trade Bottom Line MORE (R-Calif.) and Darrell IssaDarrell Edward IssaFive times presidents sparked controversy using executive privilege GOP plots comeback in Orange County The Hill's Morning Report — Shutdown fallout — economic distress MORE (R-Calif.) and are fielding a strong candidate against incumbent Congressman Jeff DenhamJeffrey (Jeff) John DenhamEx-GOP Rep. Denham heads to lobbying firm Crazy California an outlier? No, we are the canary in the coal mine Polling editor says news outlets should be more cautious calling elections MORE (R) as well as most of the other Clinton districts.

We saw this scenario play out in Iowa and New Jersey as well, with the candidates favored by the party’s leadership winning primaries in target districts. It seems the success anti-establishment candidates had early in the primary season was short lived. Or maybe it prodded the leadership to spend early money to make sure the more progressive candidates did not prevail.  

But hidden in the returns is a lifeline for the Republicans. A freshman Democrat in the State Senate was recalled after voting for a 12-cent gas hike and vehicle fees. Orange County Republicans still respond to the bedrock Republican issues, not the least of which is lower taxes. Maybe this means they won’t take out their personal dislike of Trump on their local candidates.

Or maybe it doesn’t. In any case, California, a state taken for granted in recent years, may be decisive in deciding whether the Democrats get another chance at a majority. And those of us in the East may be up late watching the returns to find out. Truly ironic.

Larry Hart is a senior fellow with the American Conservative Union Foundation’s Center for Government Reform.