California-25 and COVID-19

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The closer the examination of California’s recent special election upset, the more significant COVID-19 appears. 

Since President Trump took office, polls have indicated re-election would be an uphill effort. However, California’s astonishing outcome argues Trump and Republicans could do far better at the polls in November than they have been doing in the polls during his presidency — and that blue states’ harsh reactions to coronavirus may be a reason.  

Ignoring something does not make it go away. The establishment media’s downplaying of the special election in California’s 25th House District is proof. The Republican upset there was a political earthquake larger than the geological ones often shaking that state.  

Two congressional special elections, mirror opposites of each other, took place on May 12. One was in a blue district in a safe blue state (California-25); the other, in a red district in a battleground state (Wisconsin-7). 

Imagine the response had Democrats scored the upset in Wisconsin-7: Establishment media still would be breathlessly pronouncing it a November predictor and that Trump and Republicans faced a possible landslide. However, that upset did not happen.  

Instead, an equivalent upset did occur in the blue district. Yet, we heard only a bare minimum from establishment media. There is no talk that it is a predictor of a Trump and Republican landslide. Perhaps there should be.  

California-25, pitted Democrat Christy Smith against Republican Mike Garcia and overturned virtually every prevailing assumption in American politics. In one of the nation’s bluest states — in a district where the prior Democrat had won by a nine-percentage point margin — Republicans flipped a seat for the first time since 1998.   

According to the final tally, the Republican trounced his opponent, 55-45 percent — an almost 20 percent swing in the margins.  

Consider the race’s further details. A Republican man beat a Democrat woman, and a political novice beat a political veteran. Smith is a state assemblywoman who represents a large portion of California-25 and had top-tier endorsements from Obama, Hillary Clinton and Sen. Kamala Harris. The Republican won in a suburban district — a place where Republicans are supposedly weak.  

Democrats will try to counter that Trump was not on the ballot, that his presence would have drawn a bigger Democrat turnout. However, Trump was not on the ballot in 2018 either. Then, Democrats seized the House and insisted Trump effectively was on the ballot. The only apparent difference in Trump’s effective presence is: he is effectively there when Democrats win, but not when they lose.  

Consider the race’s implications for November. The website 270toWin lists 52 House races it considers the most competitive — 30 Democrat, 21 Republican and one Independent. Of those Democrat, 27 had been previously won by Democrats with lower margins than California-25’s in 2018. In sum, if a Republican could upset a Democrat in California-25, why not in even more favorable circumstances in November?

In California-25, Republicans dramatically outperformed all expectations — especially those of the establishment media. The question is: Why?

President Trump was fully behind Garcia’s candidacy, even more than Hillary and Obama were behind Smith’s. It is not unusual for even major national figures to see their influence not translate into local races. That is why they often make only nominal efforts in local races.  

Once again, Trump did not follow the conventional script. He injected himself into an uphill race and was part — undoubtedly a large part — of the resulting upset: A seat with a +9 percentage point Democrat margin in the previous election, turned into a +10 percentage point Republican margin.  

Trump’s supporters greatly out-voted their polling strength. They are clearly motivated, while questions must be raised now about Democrat motivation. Still, it is also worth asking whether California’s draconian coronavirus response played a role in the startling upset.  

Few states are as blue as California and few states have been as strict in their coronavirus responses. It must be considered whether this major societal event played a part in an astonishing political upset — a complete electoral reversal in less than two years’ time. Did upset coronavirus voters help trigger the political upset?

In November, Trump will be on the ballot. There is no reason to believe his supporters will be less motivated, or that Biden will inspire Democrats more. There is also no reason to believe that coronavirus and blue states’ imperious responses will not still be on the voters’ minds. If so, the establishment media could see California-25 expand to America 2020.  

J.T. Young served under President George W. Bush as the director of communications in the Office of Management and Budget and as deputy assistant secretary in legislative affairs for tax and budget at the Treasury Department. He served as a congressional staffer from 1987 through 2000.

Tags 2020 election 2020 presidential campaign 2020 race California California special election Christy Smith Coronavirus Democrats Donald Trump Hillary Clinton House Joe Biden liberals Mike Garcia Republicans Senate Special Election Wisconsin

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