The California Political Earthquake? - Sunday Political Brunch - June 10, 2018


CHARLESTON, W.Va.—Well, my headline is deceiving, yet it is an attention getter. No, there was truly no major earthquake in California, or in any of the eight states that held political primaries Tuesday. But California did have some rumblings and is certain to have some aftershocks. The truth about seismic activity in the Golden State is that most quakes are relatively mild, say in the 2.0 to 3.5 range. Yes, you might feel them, but they don’t really make an impact (or the news) unless they are, say, 5.0 or better. My point is a lot of the political rumblings out west (and elsewhere) are still hard to assess this early. Let’s “brunch” on that this week.

“California House Races” –National and state Democrats were targeting seven California House seats that are currently held by Republicans, but all in districts Hillary Clinton carried in 2016. It was a smart strategy as Democrats need to pick up 23 seats across the nation to re-take control of the House. In two of the districts, the incumbent Republican is retiring, so the seat is open. Gaining three or four seats in the nation’s most populous (and perhaps most liberal state) seems potentially doable.

“Jungle Primary” – California is the only state with a so-called “jungle primary.” I guess it got that unfortunate name because it’s a “survival of the fittest” game plan. Simply put, the top two vote-getters in any primary, even if they are in the same party, go onto face each other in the November election. California went through this just two years ago when Sen. Kamala Harris (D-California) defeated Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-California) for an open Senate seat. Republicans had to sit it out in November. While this strategy is logical for Democrats, it’s execution may be flawed.

“The Lucky 7?” – Even though California Democrats flooded many of these primaries with multiple candidates (ten in one case), their results were mixed. In some districts, they were hoping with so many candidates on their side of the ballot, they would take the top two positions, thereby blocking a Republican challenger in the fall. It did not work in any districts. To be fair, Republicans tried to frontload a few of their races with multiple candidates, in hopes of taking the top two, and blocking a Democrat from November. That failed, too. But since Democrats need a net gain in seats, clearly the primary was a victory for most Republican House incumbents. We’ll see what voters say in November.

“Governor’s Race Coattails Matter” – The biggest factor in that ultimate House outcome may in fact be the race for Governor. Democrats ran several candidates in hopes of – again – taking the top two spots, and knocking Republicans out of a spot on the November ballot. It didn’t work. Republican businessman John Cox surged at the end, with the endorsement of President Trump, and secured the number-two spot behind Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom (D-California). Can you imagine if Democrats had won both slots? Governor’s races can have strong coattail effects, pulling up candidates down the ballot. Democrats may have swept some of those vulnerable Republican House seats, but now may not because a GOP candidate for Governor (even if he loses) may help bring votes to those endangered House members, keeping them in office.

“No Sweet Home Alabama” – Loyalty is important in politics, but, so too, can be perceived disloyalty. Its reverberations can cut both ways. In Tuesday’s primary, Rep. Martha Roby (R-Alabama) failed to get a majority needed to avoid a runoff election. Now she must face a July 17th runoff to move onto November. Roby’s indiscretion? Many feel she was disloyal to President Trump when he was still running for the White House. When the “Access Hollywood” tapes came out in which Trump conceded that he sometimes groped women’s private parts without their consent, Roby renounced Trump and said she could not vote for him. Now she faces the former Democratic Congressman Bobby Bright, whom she defeated in 2010. He has since switched to the Republican Party.

“Montana’s a Key” – One of the races that got scant attention was Tuesday night’s U.S. Senate race in Montana, where Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana) had no primary opponent. State Auditor Matt Rosendale won a very close Republican primary and will face Sen. Tester in November. The Montana Senate seat is considered a toss-up, and one of the five-most vulnerable seats in the nation this year. It could mark a Senate gain for the GOP. President Trump is likely to get involved here and campaign in person. Trump has a vendetta against Tester, since it was the Montana incumbent who torpedoed the President’s recent nominee for Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Trump – as we’ve often seen by now – is a “get even” guy.

“Who’s Up Next?” – After Tuesday night, twenty states have now held primaries this year. Next Tuesday, June 12, five states will hold primary contests in Maine, Nevada, North Dakota, South Carolina and Virginia. By next Tuesday, half the states will have cast ballots, but it is still hard to assess any significant trends this early, as we head to November.

“Why All of this Matters” – Political waves are about trends. People, politicians and pundits keep talking about the looming “blue wave” in 2018. With almost half of all states already weighing in, we’ve identified some potential (though modest) gains for Democrats, but perhaps not enough to re-take the U.S. House. Sometimes primaries in September and October offer a greater sense of urgency (and change) since they are so close to the November election. Control of Congress hangs in the balance.

What races are you watching in the primaries and into the fall? What issue is tops for you? Just click the comment button at

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is a nationally-known political reporter, analyst and author. He is presently the Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia.

© Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

More information about formatting options