Capitol Alert
By Jeremy B. White
October 19, 2016 – 12:01 AM

The question for California legislative races is no longer whether Democrats will secure a majority. It’s how large their margin will be.

Once again, liberal leadership is contemplating a two-thirds majority that would allow them to pass taxes, amend political spending laws and move measures to the ballot without any Republican support. Fully cognizant of that possibility, the California Republican Party recently blasted out fundraising emails invoking the supermajority and inviting supporters to “ponder what that is going to do to your wallet and to California’s businesses……..MORE TAXES, MORE GOVERNMENT, LESS FREEDOM!”

Democrats succeeded in winning a supermajority in 2012 but relinquished it in 2014. Now, with a presidential election likely to amplify turnout, party strategists project confidence about finding a new high-water mark. The outcome will hinge on a dozen races featuring either open seats or challenges to Republican incumbents.

“California’s the land of opportunity, especially for Democrats this year,” said Steve Barkan, chief strategist for Assembly Democrats.

At the end of this legislative session, Democrats held 52 seats in the Assembly and 26 in the Senate. So if they can defend the districts they already control, Democrats would need to pick up at least two Assembly seats and one Senate seat to get to a two-thirds margin.

Democrats are working to expand the map with forays into districts not usually on the list of contested seats. Barkan credited demographics shifting in the party’s favor and spillover from the presidential campaign.

But Joe Justin, who is chief of staff to Republican Minority Leader Chad Mayes, R-Yucca Valley, and helps direct election strategy for Assembly Republicans, attributed it to Democrats’ edge in fundraising, saying “it’s easy to be brilliant” when you are in power and able to raise more money.

One new factor this year: the ascendance of Donald Trump. Multiple Democrats in contested districts have sought to tie their opponents to the divisive Republican standard-bearer. They hope it will win over centrist Republicans and voters from the bloc lacking a party preference, who in most of the districts below comprise between a fifth and a quarter of the electorate.

Justin brushed off the Trump gambit as an effort to “distract from the local issues” that Republicans won on in the first place.

“It doesn’t take a lot of creativity and frankly cheapens the campaign,” Justin said. “I think voters are going to see through that.”

All spending totals for these races are through Oct. 18. Some are rounded for simplicity. Party money refers to both state and county committees. Voter registration statistics reflect the California secretary of state’s report of voter sign-ups through Sept. 9.

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