Primary is sending mixed signals in heavily Democratic California

LOS ANGELES – California is a Democratic stronghold, but Tuesday’s primary may have exposed some cracks.

Gov. Gavin Newsom and other senior Democrats have emerged safely from hard-fought statewide races that will see them heavily favored this fall, and the Legislature appears to be on track to remain firmly under Democratic control.

But the ouster of San Francisco’s chief attorney in a new election could herald problems for the progressive Los Angeles district attorney. And the Excellence from billionaire Republican-turned-Democrat Rick Caruso in the Los Angeles Mayor’s race underscores the frustration over crime and homelessness that will affect other races this year.

A series of closely aligned US house competitions anchored in Orange County and the Central Valley will take control of Congress.


Findings from Tuesday’s primary in the nation’s most populous state:


Los Angeles and San Francisco have long been at the forefront of progressive politics. But Tuesday’s results suggested voters inclined towards lofty ideals also want results down the road.

In LA, Caruso positioned himself as an outsider, challenging the city’s progressive establishment amid an unrelenting homelessness crisis, rising rents and real estate prices, and concerns about crime. He ran first in the tentative return and will face Democratic MP Karen Bass, a staunch supporter of the party’s progressive wing, in a November runoff that will provide voters with a stark contrast.

The high-end shopping center developer, who sits on the board of directors of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation, spent more than $40 million on the competition, much of it from his estimated $4.3 billion fortune. Bass and her allies have compared Caruso to former President Donald Trump, arguing that he is more interested in power than the plight of those fighting on the streets.


The contest will test whether a left-leaning city, where Republicans make up just 13% of voters, adopts a change of direction for the first time in decades.

In San Francisco, progressive district attorney Chesa Boudin was elected in 2019 after promising a new approach to law enforcement that emphasized alternatives to incarceration and ended the war on drugs that disproportionately harmed people of color. He was superseded by a callback b ya broad margin Tuesday amid longstanding complaints of overt drug use, robberies and vandalism.

But in Tuesday’s state primary, progressive Attorney General Rob Bonta edged slightly to a runoff in November. Boudin’s loss will most likely resonate in Los Angeles, where a campaign is underway to remove progressive District Attorney George Gascón.



A series of competitive US home races in California will feed into the battle for control of Congress. Democrats defend a narrow, vulnerable majority in the chamber in midterm elections that normally penalize the party in the White House.

One of the marquee races will be held in a Democratic district north of Los Angeles, where Republican Rep. Mike Garcia will fight a rematch with the Democrat he defeated two years ago, former lawmaker Christy Smith.

In a tightly divided coastal borough of Orange County, Democratic Rep. Katie Porter, a star of the party’s progressive wing, meets Republican Scott Baugh, a former state Legislative Chair.

And in the Central Valley, Republican Rep. David Valadao was hoping for a November showdown with Democrat Rudy Salas, though the vote count remained incomplete.



Republicans have not won a statewide race in heavily Democratic California since 2006. The party’s best shot at beating that dismal record may lie with a little-recognized agency that plays a watchdog role over public dollars — the state controller.

The top voter in Tuesday’s primary was for the job Republican Lanhee Chen, The son of Taiwanese immigrants, who holds multiple degrees from Harvard University, served in the administration of President George W. Bush and won the support of the left-leaning editorial board of the Los Angeles Times.

Four Democrats split the party’s votes, with incomplete results showing Malia Cohen leading the pack.

Regardless of the outcome on the Democratic side, Chen’s challenge will be to increase his support beyond the 37% of the vote he had in the preliminary primary. Recent history shows that in a state where Democrats outnumber registered Republicans almost 2-to-1, it won’t be easy.



Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom and US Senator Alex Padilla drove into November’s runoff election, in which they are heavily favored, but preliminary results suggested a slight dip in enthusiasm for two of the state’s leaders.

Newsom received 62% of the vote Repelling an attempted recall last yearbut incomplete returns showed him 56% in Tuesday’s primary for a second four-year term.

Padilla received over 64% of the vote when he was reelected Secretary of State in 2018 before being called to the Senate to fill a vacancy when former Senator Kamala Harris was elected vice president to President-elect Joe Biden. He scored about 54% in Tuesday’s races for a full Senate term and to complete the remainder of his current term.


Nonetheless, the two Democrats also held a large lead over their closest Republican rivals, not surprising in a state where Democrats control every statewide office and dominate the legislature and congressional delegation by a wide margin.

One reason for the lower numbers: the races for governor and senate are widely viewed as walkthroughs for incumbents, and contests without drama motivate voters less to fill out a ballot. In addition, they competed with a long list of candidates on ballots, which inevitably diluted votes.

At one point, Newsom was seen in imminent danger in the 2021 recall election, but “that’s not the case this time,” noted political scientist Jack Pitney of Claremont McKenna College. There is “no suspense about the result”.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission. Primary is sending mixed signals in heavily Democratic California

Sarah Y. Kim

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