Fox & Hounds

By Sherry Bebitch Jeffe & Doug Jeffe
Friday, May 6th, 2016

As they say about opera, “it ain’t over until the fat lady sings.”

Well, in the 2016 Presidential nomination races, it isn’t going to be officially over until California votes. Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump appear to have a virtual lock on their party’s nominations, but neither is able to muster a convention-delegate majority until after the June 7 California Primary.

After being virtual bystanders in the modern presidential nominating process, California voters get to put a period on both the Democratic and Republican races. While the outcome in both presidential races seems pre-ordained at this point, a month is an eternity in politics. Moreover, Presidential politics can have significant impact in California’s down ballot contests.

As always, turnout is pivotal in contested races, particularly because of California’s top two primary system, which applies to all partisan offices except the presidency. This is where enthusiasm and interest comes in. If either party has a large turnout advantage or disadvantage, that can make a difference in determining which two down-ballot candidates will run off in a highly contested district.

In 2012, when there was no Democratic Presidential primary race, two Republicans edged into the runoff for the 31st Congressional District, where Democrats had been favored to win in November. Subsequently, Pete Aguilar reclaimed the seat for the Democrats in 2014.

In the 24th CD on California’s Central Coast, where Lois Capps is retiring, there are at least two viable contenders from each party on the primary ballot. A skewed turnout in that district could produce a face off between two Republicans or between two Democrats—not likely, but possible.

In the U.S. Senate race, it is looking increasingly likely that two Democrats—California Attorney General Kamala Harris and Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez will face off in November, since the three leading Republicans are little known and underfunded. Only a lopsidedly heavy GOP turnout could change that dynamic—and Cruz’s departure from the GOP race makes that improbable.

While Republican turnout has outpaced the Democrats’ in this year’s primary season across the country, that isn’t likely to happen in California. The mood at last week’s Republican State Convention in Burlingame, where all three GOP Presidential contenders appeared, can best be described as tepid. The most enthusiasm seemed to be among the couple of hundred demonstrators who blocked Donald Trump’s entrance to the convention hotel, and forced him to be shepherded through a gap in a freeway fence, to be ushered into the meeting venue through a back door. (Still, the protestors seemed less than “enthusiastic,” too.)

To read expanded column, click here.