Post-Primary Race Previews – California

By Jim Ellis

June 13, 2016 — The June 7 primary results set the stage for several interesting California general election campaigns. Tomorrow, we will review the other June 7 primary states and their key general election contests.

The competition to replace retiring Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) features two Democrats advancing to the general election for the first time in state history. Attorney General Kamala Harris and Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Santa Ana) placed first and second in the jungle primary field of 34 Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. Harris’ 40 percent performance was stronger than polling projected, while Rep. Sanchez’s 19 percent of the joint vote fulfilled her forecast.

Without any suspense as to whether or not the Democrats will hold the Boxer seat, it is unlikely the national Democratic Party apparatus or outside Super PACs will involve themselves in the race. This should be more of a help to Sanchez than Harris. Though Harris is the clear favorite to win the general election, Rep. Sanchez has the correct profile for a modern day California statewide candidate.

Hailing from southern California, where approximately 60 percent of the state’s residents live and a region starved for a statewide office holder, Sanchez, coming from Orange County, has the opportunity to make geography a political asset.

The state’s large Hispanic population should also be another of the congresswoman’s major assets. Now equaling the statewide Anglo population, Sanchez unifying Hispanics and working to increase their turnout rate – something that should be easier in the open presidential year – will yield her a strong voting segment.

The Sanchez coalition’s final leg is actually Republicans. With nowhere to go in the general election, it is reasonable that the congresswoman could portray herself as closer ideologically to the 27 percent of registered voters who are Republican and the three percent who belong to conservative minor parties, in addition to the right of center Independent voter share. Combined, all of these factors suggest that Rep. Sanchez has an opportunity to score an upset victory if she can compete financially.

Several congressional battles will likely become national targets:

CA-7: The swing Sacramento County 7th District proved to be the most expensive congressional race in the country two years ago, with combined candidate expenditures approaching the $10 million mark, not counting independent activity. This year, sophomore Rep. Ami Bera (D) will face Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones (R) in November.

Jones comes to the race with high name ID based upon his locally prominent position. Only the two candidates were on the jungle primary ballot, and Bera garnered 53.3 percent as compared to Jones’ 46.7 percent. It was widely believed that Democratic turnout was much higher than in past primaries due to the Clinton-Sanders presidential contest.

Though the national election, at least in California, will favor Clinton and the Democrats, Sheriff Jones is a viable threat in this general election campaign.

CA-10: Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Turlock/Modesto) will face a re-match in his San Joaquin Valley district. Two years ago, the congressman defeated businessman Michael Eggman (D), 56-44 percent. Coming through Tuesday’s jungle primary Denham scored 47 percent, but the other Republican on the ballot ballooned the GOP vote share to 57 percent. National Democrats were disappointed with Eggman’s 2014 effort, so he will have to improve greatly to attract national attention. Rep. Denham is the decided favorite here, but what should be an increased Democratic presidential turnout will give the challenger an extra boost.

CA-16: Rep. Jim Costa (D-Fresno) will again likely face a competitive general election. He has had two close calls (2010, 2014) in what proves to be one of the lower turnout districts in the state. Rancher Johnny Tacherra (R) advanced through the qualifying election, defeating Madera County Supervisor David Rogers (R), an individual many GOP strategists believed would be a stronger contender. Rep. Costa should also benefit from what promises to be a Democratic turnout boost.

CA-17: This San Jose district will also host a re-match in 2016. Rep. Mike Honda (D) and former Obama Administration official Ro Khanna (D) again advance to the general election. The congressman won a 52-48 percent decision two years ago. Khanna slightly leads the incumbent in the jungle primary with thousands of mail ballots remaining to count, and the general election outcome is very much in doubt.

CA-20: Rep. Sam Farr (D-Carmel), retiring after spending 24 years in the House, will yield to Democrat Jimmy Panetta. The new prohibitive favorite is a former Monterey County deputy District Attorney, and the son of former US Defense Secretary, CIA Director and local congressman, Leon Panetta (D). The younger Panetta took 71 percent of the vote in the jungle primary.

CA-21: Rep. David Valadao (R-Bakersfield) holds the second-most Democratic district to elect a Republican congressman in the nation. Due to the California vote-by-mail system – that more than half the voters use – people are allowed to postmark their ballots on Election Day. Therefore, it is still unclear which of two Democratic candidates will advance to the general election. Rep. Valadao captured first place with 58 percent of the vote. Two Democratic candidates, Fowler City Councilman Daniel Parra and businessman Emilio Huerta, are just 467 votes apart as more ballots continue to be processed. Huerta is the son of Cesar Chavez’s United Farmworkers Union co-founder, Dolores Huerta, and was expected to be the stronger candidate. So far, such has not proven true, placing Valadao in a robust position for re-election.

CA-24: This Santa Barbara/San Luis Obispo seat appears to have produced a surprise second-place finisher, assuming the mail votes continue the present pattern. Democrat Salud Carbajal, a Santa Barbara County local official, placed first with 33 percent as expected, though state and national Democratic leaders were hoping for a better result. In second place, at least for the time being, is businessman and former UCLA football player Justin Fareed (R). Close behind in third place – currently 2,357 votes behind Fareed – is state Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian who was expected to at least finish second. He still may, but the margin suggests that Fareed will cement his lead. Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider (D) finished fourth with 14 percent. Democrats will likely be facing a different opponent than they expected, but this could be a competitive general election, nonetheless. Rep. Lois Capps (D-Santa Barbara) is retiring.

CA-25: Freshman Rep. Steve Knight (R-Antelope Valley/Simi Valley) placed first with 49 percent in the jungle primary, and the combined Republican vote share was 56 percent. Knight now faces attorney Bryan Caforio (D-Valencia), the second place finisher (29 percent). The congressman is the clear favorite for re-election, but his lack of fundraising prowess and the district becoming more Democratic means both parties are watching the early general election developments.

CA-29: Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-Pacoima) came through the jungle primary with 62 percent, a much better showing than forecast. It is still unclear as to which individual will be the congressman’s general election opponent, but that person will be a Democrat. Former state legislator and LA City Councilman Richard Alarcon (D) has a slight lead over the third-place finisher but the second qualifying slot won’t be decided until the primary returns become final. Based upon Rep. Cardenas’ early performance, he should have little trouble winning in the fall irrespective of whom he faces.

CA-31: Freshman Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Redlands) captured only 43 percent in the jungle primary, giving Democrats another weak performance. Though Republican leaders hoped investor Sean Flynn (R) would have advanced because he can self-fund, 2014 nominee Paul Chabot (R), a former Naval officer, again came through. He easily beat former Rep. Joe Baca (R), Flynn, and another Democrat to finish second (24 percent) and create a re-match contest. Two years ago, Aguilar scored a 52-48 percent win over Chabot even though the latter received very little party backing. If the Republicans begin to rally around Chabot, who again proved he attracts votes and has considerably improved his fundraising, this San Bernardino County seat could again become competitive.

CA-32: Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-Norwalk) still awaits official notification of whom she will face in November. The final mail ballots will determine if Republican Gordon Fisher or state Assemblyman Roger Hernandez (D) advances into the general election. If Fisher wins, Napolitano is home free. If Hernandez squeaks through, the Napolitano re-election effort will still be successful but her normal partisan advantage will be neutralized. Currently, Fisher leads Hernandez by just 222 votes.

CA-36: Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Palm Springs) recorded a strong 57 percent in Tuesday’s primary. Republicans were disappointed in state Sen. Jeff Nelson’s (R) 33 percent, but he could still become a viable general election challenger. Ruiz is favored to win a third term, but this desert political contest will merit attention.

CA-44: The 44th is a heavily minority Los Angeles County district that Rep. Janice Hahn (D-San Pedro) is vacating to run for the powerful County Board of Supervisors. State Sen. Isadore Hall (D-Compton), who has Rep. Hahn’s support and that of the Democratic establishment, placed first with 41 percent of the vote. He will now face Hermosa Beach City Councilwoman Nanette Barragan (D) in the general election in yet another Democrat vs. Democrat affair. The 44th is 70.5 percent Hispanic and only 16 percent African American. The demographic split is likely Barragan’s only advantage because Sen. Hall is cast as the decided favorite.

CA-46: Former state Senator and Orange County Supervisor Lou Correa (D) placed first in the primary by a margin of 27 percentage points. The fact that Republican Bob Peterson likely edged out the Democratic mayor of Garden Grove and another former state senator means that Correa should have an easy ride in November. He is virtually the prohibitive favorite to replace outgoing Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Santa Ana), just so long as Republican Peterson holds onto second place.

CA-52: Rep. Scott Peters (D-San Diego), who has won two close elections in successive campaigns, scored a strong 59 percent in Tuesday’s primary. His general election opponent will be local businesswoman Denise Gitsham (R), who topped a field of four other GOP candidates. The 52nd is winnable for a Republican, and Gitsham has a strong profile for the district, but Rep. Peters is favored for re-election. This will be a race to watch.


Several incumbents posted rather weak primary performances, but all are still strong favorites in the general election:

CA-1: Sophomore Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Oroville/Redding) managed only a 40 percent showing in a field of seven candidates, though the combined Republican vote factor was 62 percent. The congressman is still a heavy favorite over Democratic attorney Jim Reed in the general election.

CA-8: Rep. Paul Cook (R-Yucca Valley) also scored in the low 40s (43 percent), but the combined Republican vote was 63 percent. It is still unclear if he will soon face Democratic educator Rita Ramirez, whose hold on second place is 1,085 votes, or Republican Tim Donnelly, a former gubernatorial candidate. If he draws Ramirez, Rep. Cook will win easily because partisanship favors Republicans here. The congressman would be favored over Donnelly, but the race would become considerably tougher.

CA-45: Freshman Rep. Mimi Walters (R-Irvine) scoring only 41 percent was a surprise, though the combined Republican vote is 60 percent, which is right where it should be for this district. The fact that Democrat Ron Varasteh qualified for the general puts Walters in good shape, since the seat’s partisanship factor heavily favors Republicans.

CA-49: Veteran Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Carlsbad) managed only a 51-45 percent advantage over Democratic attorney and Iraq War veteran Doug Applegate, in what proved to be a surprise especially since the challenger spent less than $50,000 or the primary election. The general election turnout model will help Issa in this district, but the 49th is another seat that bears early watching to see if the Democrats attempt to seize on Applegate’s early performance.

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