Oct 01, 2018
UPDATE FROM A POLITICAL JUNKIE
The Political Junkie Looks at the November Election - Marin, Statewide, and National - Partisan and Nonpartisan Races
Oct 01, 2018
By Greg Brockbank
LOCAL NONPARTISAN RACES
This very hot race continues to get hotter, even though the June election results made Lori Frugoli (48+%) the frontrunner, and made Anna Pletcher (30%) the underdog, after Pletcher was predicted to come in first by me. Not only do they have opposite styles -- straightforward vs. passionate -- you can count on Frugoli to continue most policies, but not push the progressive edge like Pletcher would. Frugoli’s 48+% of voters in June will shrink to about 30% of the expanded pool of voters in November, but of course Pletcher will have to get a pretty high percentage of all those new voters to overcome the lead Frugoli will have amongst those who already voted for one of them and will do so again in November.
Recent press coverage has included Frugoli’s court challenge of Pletcher's use of the Marin Democratic Party’s endorsement in her ballot statement, alleging it was contrary to the law banning the listing of a candidate’s political party in a nonpartisan race; the judge agreed she shouldn’t have used it, but allowed it anyway based, at least in part, on the untimeliness of the objection. In a separate dispute, Pletcher claims Frugoli misled voters in printed campaign material saying, in large print, that she was “the only Dem,” but then in smaller letters below “endorsed by every former D.A.” Obviously, Frugoli’s not the only Dem. Full disclosure: I’ve endorsed Pletcher.
SCHOOL BOARD AND SPECIAL DISTRICT RACES
In addition to the DA’s runoff, we are seeing one of the largest group of races that we’ve seen in decades, because most of the local city councils, school boards, and special districts have been forced to move their elections from odd-numbered years to even-numbered years, purportedly to increase turnout (higher in even-numbered years), but which results in a bigger load on the elections office, and ultimately, the voter, not to mention the candidates seeking volunteers and contributions while competing with partisan and large-district candidates in the same election for the first time.
With most of the few dozen school board and special district races moving to this November’s ballot for the first time, added to the dozen or so races traditionally in November, there are many more potential races. Most go uncontested, and not onto the ballot, because there are no more candidates in a given race than there are seats available. But this year, nearly 20 school board members declined to run for re-election (a larger than usual number), causing even more candidates to file to replace them, and so we have more contested races.
COLLEGE OF MARIN
Although sleepy in recent years, and relatively fresh off passage of a second facilities bond measure, the College Board race attracted a larger than usual number of candidates for three seats (incumbent Brady Bevis resigned earlier this year, and the board declined to appoint a replacement since the election was coming up soon): long-time incumbents Wanden Treanor and Diana Conti, and new candidates Suzanne Brown Crowe, Andrew Cullen, George Rothbart and Robert Ovetz. Cullen lacks a ballot statement (a serious error, indicating a non-serious candidate, or a completely unfunded one), and Rothbart and Ovetz are current or former faculty members with little track record or capacity for winning, leaving Crow as the only strong new candidate. Full disclosure: I served on that board from ’89-’07, and have endorsed Treanor, Conti, and Crow.
SAUSALITO-MARIN CITY SCHOOL BOARD
Often controversial, this year’s race features two incumbents and five new candidates running for three seats, most of them on two different slates (with an incumbent on each). Incumbent Ida (Times) Green (daughter of long-time politico Betty Times, now deceased) is running with Bonnie Hough, known among progressive activists for 30+ years, and incumbent Josh Barrow is running with Kurt Weinsheimer and Jennifer Irwin, with Nathan Scripps apparently not connected to either slate, and Peter Romanowsky, a perennial candidate.
The Ida Green slate advocates for the needy children in the public school in Marin City – MLK – even though that school already has lots of special funding for its many high-needs students. The other slate, with incumbent Josh Barrow, represents four of the five school board members who think more funding ought to go to the Willow Creek Charter School, since it has more students (and, perhaps, more voters?), and presumably less special funding than MLK. But as in all races, the winners will probably be the ones who garner the most prestigious endorsements (individuals, groups, the Marin Democrats, the women’s political caucus, the IJ), and can raise enough money to send mailers and tell the voters about them along with their accomplishments and positions on the issues.
But the dynamics of this race are more complicated than this. There’s an Attorney General’s investigation started two years ago and still not completed, regarding board favoritism of Willow Creek over MLK. And there are distinct racial overtones, amongst the board, the community, and the student body demographics of the two schools. I’ve endorsed Green and Hough.
TAMALPAIS UNION HIGH SCHOOL BOARD
This district is unusual in that, despite having some controversy about losing a superintendent recently, deficit spending, and whether the parcel tax measure they put on the ballot (also this November) should be an extension or an increase, none of the three incumbents are running for re-election, leaving the field up to four new candidates: Barbara McVeigh, Dan Oppenheim, Cynthia Roenisch, and Kevin Saavedra. The latter three are well-experienced with the district, and formed a slate, whereas the first one is an interesting new candidate who might not be ready for this now.
NOVATO SCHOOL BOARD
Two incumbents – Derek Knell and Maria Aguila – are running for re-election, but the third, Shelly Scott, is stepping down because she was just elected in June as the next Assessor-Recorder. Three new candidates are running as well: the impressive Diane Gasson (endorsed by the Marin Women’s PAC and the Marin Democratic Party), Hunter Azadeh, and Toni Shroyer’s husband Jim Shroyer.
SAN RAFAEL SCHOOL BOARD
Two highly accomplished (on and off the school board) incumbents, Rachel Kertz (one term) and Natu Tuatagaloa (four terms) are running for re-election to their two seats (I’ve endorsed both), but are challenged by Jon Marker, a young activist in San Rafael with good ideas and good experience, considering he’s literally and figuratively 20 years behind the two excellent incumbents. There will probably be a seat on this board for him someday soon, perhaps when his pre-school kids start in the district, but probably not this year.
DIXIE SCHOOL BOARD, AND TWO SMALL WEST MARIN SCHOOL BOARDS
In Terra Linda’s Dixie District (which is having yet another controversy about changing the district's name), incumbent Brad Honsberger is running for re-election, but two of his colleagues aren’t, leaving two open seats. Impressive newcomers Megan Hutchinson and Brooks Nguyen were endorsed by MWPAC, and I hear good things about the final candidate, Mike Moaveni, as well. The Shoreline School District has incumbent Timothy Kehoe running for re-election, and four other candidates, as there is an open second seat in this race. And the three incumbents in the Bolinas-Stinson district are facing challenger Stephen O’Neal for one of their three seats.
MARIN HEALTHCARE DISTRICT
This large district (all of Marin except Novato and West Marin, like MMWD), which has always been held in November of even-numbered years, has had controversies for decades, with “recent” ones including control of the hospital by Sutter (and anti-Sutter folks proved right that Sutter didn’t have our best interests at heart), and continuing a private board that really runs the hospital (won by the pro-Sutter folks, because the docs needed to serve on it really don’t want the public scrutiny of a publicly-elected position); the publicly-elected board appoints the private board members, and has more control over it than they used to.
In recent years, in particular, there have even been elections with no challengers, but this year two of the three incumbents, both long-term (Jennifer Rienks and Larry Bedard), are running, with one additional seat open due to the remaining incumbent declining to run for a second term. Two surgeons and a realtor are also running, but one them lacks a ballot statement (he left it to the last minute and had an emergency surgery?), and the realtor, Melissa Bradley, is running for reasons which many people still find confusing, in a self-admitted time of crisis and change in her life. She’ll self-fund a campaign, but so far she’s failed to impress. I support Rienks, and am thus far undecided on Bedard and the two surgeons.
Another race with traditional November-of-even-numbered-years elections, and also one with often highly contested and high-profile races. Most districts elect all their members district-wide (“at large”), but MMWD is an exception (along with the Shoreline School District, and the Marin County Board of Education), which elects its members by district (“divisions”). Three divisions’ member’s terms are up, and all three filed to run for re-election. One-term incumbent Larry Bragman drew no challenger, but Cynthia Koehler drew Joby Tapia, a relatively unknown official with a Marin property owners’ association.
But the interesting one is that, out of the blue, another long-time incumbent, Jack Gibson, was challenged by long-time San Rafael Schools trustee Greg Knell, who has a long and good track record on the school board, and in numerous other things, and is politically very savvy. But I don’t think that will be quite enough to overcome Jack’s long-time successful incumbency. (I support Gibson and Koehler).
NO. MARIN WATER DISTRICT, FOUR SANITARY DISTRICTS, AND TWO FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICTS
Veteran incumbent Rick Fraites and newly appointed incumbent Jim Grossi are being challenged by Tina McMillan, a Novato activist. Four sanitary districts have races, all because one lone challenger in each district is challenging all the incumbents in each district running for re-election: Crystal Yezman in Las Gallinas Valley, Gary Butler in Novato, Sid Daru in Richardson Bay, Omar Arias-Montez in Tiburon District #5. Similarly, in the Stinson Beach Fire Protection District (FPD), challenger Will Mitchell is challenging the two incumbents for one of their seats, and the Novato FPD, where an incumbent stepped down (about the only one in all the special district races, other than the healthcare district), incumbent Bill Davis and new candidates Bruce Goines and Richard Hamilton are vying for the two seats.
MARIN’S PARTISAN RACES FOR CONGRESS AND LEGISLATURE
As I said in my last article two months ago, it was not surprising that all three incumbents in these races won handily (72-80%): Democrats Jared Huffman for Congress, Mike McGuire for State Senate, and Marc Levine for State Assembly. Their four challengers were all relatively unknown and poorly funded, making their campaigns almost invisible, and the three incumbents might not have needed to campaign at all for the primary. Or the November election either.
But politicians at almost all levels derive much of their power from how much money they raise, even if they themselves don’t need it; it can then be passed on to more needy colleagues in swing districts. So, even if the incumbents don’t need to fund-raise to win their own re-election, they do. And three of the June challengers face the incumbents again in November (even though two of them are also Democrats), because of our relatively new “top-two" primary system which puts the top two vote-getters on the November ballot, regardless of party. With the incumbents heavily favored in each race, it will be:
- Huffman versus Dale Mensing (again), the same unknown Republican from a northern county Huffman soundly defeated four years ago;
- McGuire versus Democrat Ronnie Jacoby, a frequent candidate (and former one-term Santa Rosa City Councilmember) who ran against Levine two years ago; and
- Levine versus Democrat Dan Monte, a first-time candidate this year who is a long-time progressive activist who claims that Levine is not progressive enough for many or most in Marin and Sonoma. Monte particularly cites Levine’s failure to support SB562, the most recent single-payer health care bill, and other issues. Full disclosure: I’m Monte’s campaign treasurer.
Running against an incumbent U.S. Senator in your own party is always tough, especially when the incumbent has served 26 years, is widely respected (even among many Republicans), and can raise substantial money. Challenger Kevin de Leon (who just stepped down as State Senate President Pro Tem, and will be termed out of the Legislature at the end of the year) knew this going in, but he also knew that many in the Democratic Party preferred him because Feinstein doesn’t oppose Trump forcefully enough or vote often enough against his nominees. De Leon was nearly endorsed by the California Democratic Party at their convention in February (I was there as delegate, as I’ve been for over 30 state conventions, and I supported him), but he was in fact endorsed by the party at its Executive Board meeting in July by a surprisingly large margin. But he did not do well in the June election, losing 44.2% - 12.1% to Feinstein, and may well lose by a similar margin in November. The moral of the story is that the State Democratic Party Convention delegates are considerably more progressive than the rank-and-file Democratic voters, and the party’s Executive Board members are more progressive still.
Gavin Newsom (33.7% in June) has been the frontrunner wire to wire – first to enter the race, first in fundraising, and first, consistently, in the polls. However, his lead in June was narrower than predicted, and although many thought he'd face former Assembly Speaker, former L.A. Mayor, and fellow Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa (13.3%) in November, Villaraigosa faded down the stretch. Instead, Newsom (whom I’ve always supported) faces Republican John Cox (25.4%), who came on strong at the end, was endorsed by Trump, and looks and sounds good (for an unknown Republican), even though he’s never held elected office, despite several attempts (including the presidency), mostly from another state. Although Newsom’s lead was narrower than expected in June, he is expected to get most of the votes from the other three major Democratic candidates and win handily in November.
The top two vote-getters in June, as expected, were former Ambassador (to Hungary) Eleni Kounalakis (24.2%) and State Senator Ed Hernandez (20.6%). Hernandez is the “traditional” candidate, being termed out of the Legislature after 12 years, which is where most statewide office candidates come from, but he doesn’t seem to be very well-known and/or very well-liked. Kounalakis is something of an indefatigable campaigner, and I support her, even though it isn’t very clear who is the most progressive. They both campaign as progressives.
One of the great surprises in the June election for many of us was how poorly Dave Jones did in June (15.4%), considering that he is a two-term Insurance Commissioner who jumped into the race nearly two years before appointed incumbent Xavier Becerra was even appointed (to fill the rest of Kamala Harris’ term after she was elected to the U.S. Senate), locked up most of the local activists’ support, and raised considerable money early. But he came in third (after a relatively unknown Republican, Steven C. Bailey with 24.5%), and is out of the November runoff. In November, Becerra has the advantage of incumbency (albeit appointed), and the high profile of his many legal battles (mostly winning ones) with the Trump administration, not to mention being a Democrat in California.
STATE SUPERINTENDENT OF PUBLIC INSTRUCTION
Although Marshall Tuck is a Democrat (technically, this is the only statewide nonpartisan position), the State Democratic Party is quite cool to him, since he ran against incumbent Tom Torlakson (who is now terming out) four years ago, and is primarily known as a strong supporter of charter schools, something an increasing number of Democrats are growing suspicious of (especially the for-profit variety). But Tuck (37.0%) successfully portrayed himself as a successful school reformer against his Democratic Party-endorsed opponent Tony Thurmond (35.6%), a relatively new (and, like Tuck, young) Richmond Assemblyman. The same two face off again in November and it could again be close.
State Board of Equalization member (and former S.F. Supervisor) Fiona Ma (44.5%) was relatively unopposed for this open seat, and faces Republican Greg Conlon (20.8%) in November. She will presumably beat him handily.
STATE INSURANCE COMMISSIONER
This is the only statewide race where a non-Democrat was the top vote-getter in June. Steve Poizner (41.1%) held the seat as a Republican for one term until he ran for Governor eight years ago, taking hard right positions as a gubernatorial candidate, which damaged his centrist reputation. He’s now an “independent,” more recently called “Decline to State,” and properly now called “No Party Preference,” and could win in November, given his lead in June against relatively unknown Democratic State Senator Ricardo Lara (40.5%).
SECRETARY OF STATE
Incumbent Alex Padilla (52.6%) will face relatively unknown Republican Mark Meuser (31.0%), and should cruise easily to a second term.
Incumbent Betty Yee (62.1%) also won handily in June, and will face Republican Konstantinos Roditis (33.9%) in November. Yee is heavily favored for a second term as well.
STATE BALLOT MEASURES
As a result of a relatively new law, only statewide ballot measures (“propositions”) put on the ballot by the Legislature appear on the June ballot in even-numbered years, and the more contentious and hard-fought campaigns, put on by citizen signatures, appear in November. There were five in June, a few more than usual, and there will be 11 in November: four bond measures (or bond authorization measures), Props 1-4, (1 and 2 were placed on the ballot by legislators, along with Prop. 7], and eight individually placed on the ballot by their supporters. They run from 1-12, but there is no Prop 9 (the controversial advisory measure about splitting the state) because it was removed from the ballot by a court a couple months ago.
PROP 1 – AUTHORIZES BONDS TO FUND HOUSING ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS
With California’s average house costing 2.5 times the national average, and rent 50% higher, and homes being built at only a fraction of the rate of jobs created (especially in the Bay Area, including Marin), the problem is getting worse instead of better. This proposition would authorize $3B in bonds (which would be in addition to the $2B California gets for housing projects from the federal government), ultimately costing about $6B total with the interest over a 35-year period at $170M/yr. Although some say we have too much bonded indebtedness, others say that we have the right amount, as debt is being added in the same proportion to the state budget as old bond debts are being paid off. Although only modest funding has been raised for the measure, there is no funding reported for the opposition, and no reported opposition.
PROP 2 – AUTHORIZES BONDS TO FUND EXISTING HOUSING PROGRAM FOR INDIVIDUALS WITH MENTAL ILLNESS
This is not for a new “loan” (bond authorization), but instead authorizes the state to issue bonds against 2004’s Prop. 63, popularly known as “the millionaire’s tax,” which provided county funding for mental health services. In 2016, the Legislature authorized $2B in bond funding for the homeless from this very millionaire’s tax, but their plan has been held up in court, and Prop 2 this year is a way to properly “authorize” it. No formal opposition.
PROP 3 – THE WATER BOND
Bond authorization measures may well be becoming more frequent, and water bonds (this one’s for $8.9B) are a frequent bond subject, usually passing handily, especially since the funding is titled as going to “Water Supply and Quality, Watershed, Fish, Wildlife, Water Conveyance, and Groundwater Sustainability and Storage.” Supporters range from The Nature Conservancy to the State Chamber of Commerce, from the Assn. of Calif. Water Agencies to the Ag Council of CA, and Dianne Feinstein (who’s been working on state water issues for decades). The only opposition listed on the Official Voter Information Guide pamphlet, just out, is a Central Valley taxpayers group, but the League of Women Voters also opposes it, and there is never a shortage of critics for any plan amongst farming and environmentalist factions for California’s precious and diminishing water.
PROP 4 – THE CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL BOND
This is for $1.5B, but it follows separate authorizations for children’s hospital bond funding in ’04 and ’08 – just 12 and 16 years ago. And this additional money is earmarked for eight specified private nonprofit children’s hospitals, comprising the California Children’s Hospital Assn., which sponsored this measure, is paying for the campaign, and will receive the funding. Although there is no opposition campaign funding reported, the League of Women Voters opposes it, on the grounds that public money ought not be used to support private facilities.
PROP 5 – PROPERTY TAX TRANSFER
This is yet another in a seemingly endless series of “patches” to now-40-year-old Prop 13, because people keep wanting to expand it (although most wouldn’t say that), or at least make its benefits more “fair.” At some point, we should perhaps admit that it may have been a bad idea to begin with, creating growing inequities and continuing to unfairly limit local government revenue. Right now, someone over age 55 can move their long-held home’s low assessed value (tax basis) from one primary residence to another one (and with a few exceptions, only in the same county), only if the new home costs less, and only once in their life. This measure would remove all of those restrictions, and allow such transfer to all counties, regardless of the cost of the new home, and regardless of how many times the taxpayer has done it before, despite the loss of revenue to local governments. Modest funding of $7M or so has come from various realtor organizations, and there is no opposition funding reported, although opponents include the League of Women Voters, the CA Teachers Assn., and at least four major Bay Area newspapers.
PROP 6 – THE GAS TAX REPEAL
Last year, the Legislature finally succeeded in passing (by a two-thirds vote) a comprehensive transportation funding and repair bill (SB 1), which included slightly increased car registration fees and gasoline taxes, for the first time in years or decades. The resulting $5B/year (eventually) is now starting to flow into every county in the state, and those counties, including Marin, are coming to increasingly rely on it for major projects (e.g., completing the Novato Narrows). But few things anger right-wing anti-taxers like increased gasoline taxes, however modest and overdue, so they put this measure on the ballot to repeal those gas taxes. If it passes, and it may (although an article last week said the campaign to repeal the tax is running short of steam and cash, and dropping in the polls), then the flow of new money would stop shortly after it’s started to come in. Supporters include the state Republican Party and taxpayer groups (who’ve contributed $3.6M), and opponents include the State Democratic Party, the state Chamber of Commerce, the Sierra Club, and the League of Women Voters, and have raised $29M.
PROP 7 – PERMANENT DAYLIGHT SAVINGS TIME
This is an advisory measure which would allow the state legislature to approve permanent year-round daylight savings time, but only if federal law authorizes it, requiring a change in a 1949 federal law. States are all over the map, with two permanently on Standard time, and others, including California, interested in permanent daylight savings time. Schoolchildren would have to go to school in the dark in winter, but proponents argue that switching back and forth twice a year is stressful, unhealthy, and costly. Some say it will save some electricity, but others say that will be offset by increased air conditioning costs. The Democratic Party supports it.
PROP 8 – LIMITS ON DIALYSIS CLINICS’ REVENUE & REQUIRED REFUNDS
Two chain dialysis clinics – DaVita and Fresenius -- do the majority of dialysis treatments, and are accused by this measure's proponents of gouging private patients with insurance, charging them several times as much as their negotiated rates for Medi-Cal and Medicare. The proponents propose capping rates, and refunding fees if their profits exceed a certain amount calculated by a complex formula. Yes, it interferes with capitalism, and yes, it restrains private industry with regulated rates. The Democrats support it, and the Republicans oppose it, with labor union SEIU providing virtually all of the proponents’ $17.4M, while the two clinic chains and one other company are the major contributors ($52.7M) to the opposition, along with the Republican Party.
PROP 10 – THE AFFORDABLE HOUSING ACT (REPEALS THE COSTA-HAWKINS ACT)
This measure has been predicted by some to be the hottest and most expensive campaign on the state’s ballot this year. When a dozen or so (mostly larger, older) cities started to pass rent control measures, the 1995 Costa Hawkins Rent Control Act limited rent control to existing buildings – meaning no rent control on buildings first occupied starting 1/1/96. It also made rent control inapplicable to single-family homes and condos, and mandated “vacancy decontrol”: landlords can now raise a long-rented but now vacant unit back up to market value, rather than be forced to pass that unit’s low rental amount to the new tenant. Prop 10 would remove all those restrictions, and would allow cities to have their existing or new rent control laws apply to new buildings, single-family homes, and condos, and even mandate vacancy control if they choose. Among the unsurprising list of supporters (the Democratic Party, the League of Women Voters, and various large unions) is the CalAIDS Foundation, controversial because of its controversial founder and his huge donations to various state ballot measures, and who has in fact funded nearly all of the $13.3M to date. The opposition has raised $36.7M, mostly from the California Apt. Owners Assn.
PROP 11 – AMBULANCE EMPLOYEES' PAID ON-CALL BREAKS, TRAINING AND MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES
This would amend the Labor Code to allow private ambulance employees to remain on call during meal and rest breaks. Although the law generally allows for breaks without being on call for most employees, it hasn’t been enforced with ambulance employees, until a 2016 California Supreme court case caused employers to start to change, and also prompted this measure, with employers claiming 25% more ambulances would be needed otherwise. Supporters include, primarily, employer American Medical Response (who has funded the $3.6M raised to date), and the Republican Party, while the State Labor Union, Teachers Union, and Democratic Party oppose it (although with no funding to date) on the grounds that private ambulance companies shouldn’t be allowed to carve out an exemption from California labor laws.
PROP 12 – FARM ANIMAL CAGES
Although no humane person could object to a bill that mandates slightly better conditions for the poor animals raised for meat and eggs, this measure is controversial. In some ways it improves conditions for pigs and veal calves -- although leaving a lot of time to institute the changes -- and attempts to make more specific the conditions mandated by Prop 2 in 2008, but there is much that is lacking. For chickens, it only demands one square foot for each and allows cages, which Prop 2 did not. Although the largest animal rights groups support Prop 12, many such groups do not. This really comes down to a political question: could a better bill be passed in the future?
CONTROL OF CONGRESS
The national obsession (at least among even the mildly politically interested) with who will control each house of Congress after the November elections has been going on for nearly two years now, since Trump’s election. And we’ll know, at last, in about a month. Remember two guidelines, which are working at cross purposes this election:
- If the President is unpopular, almost always the other party gains seats in the mid-term elections;
- Democrats usually do worse in mid-term elections because too many of their voters don’t bother to vote except in presidential elections; the key to their success is getting them to vote this time, even though failure to do so was a major cause of the 2016 shocker.
Also remember that the Senate elections have very different factors than House races, especially this year, so success in one house may not necessarily imply equal success in the other. And keep in mind the terrible map faced by the Senate Democrats this year: ten incumbents facing re-election in red states won by Trump (“the endangered Dems”), and only one Republican incumbent seeking re-election in a (barely) blue state (Dean Heller, in Nevada), won narrowly by Clinton.
We’ve known that for nearly two years, but in recent months, most of the endangered Dems have polled more and more strongly, even in deep-red states, so that only 2-3 are considered in danger now, and they are all toss-ups. Nevada has also been a toss-up, but there have been at least a couple other surprise states that were considered safely red, but in which the Democrat is now leading narrowly – Arizona and Tennessee.
In both cases, there is no incumbent seeking re-election in those races; the seats are currently occupied by Jeff Flake and Bob Corker, respectively, who declined to run for re-election (some say they couldn’t win because they didn’t embrace Trump). If the endangered Dems all prevail (still a tall order, but looking better all the time), and the Democrats can flip red seats not only in Nevada, but also in Arizona and/or Tennessee, then that would give them up to 52 seats, and the majority. But all those races are close, and the Democrats may not be able to run the table. Some think Democratic Congressman Beto O’Rourke can beat Ted Cruz in Texas, and it’s close, but Texas is still pretty red.
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
How big will the Blue Wave be, if any? And last month (or last year) doesn’t count – only next month. Many or most of these races will be played out in rural areas of numerous states, but most of the surprisingly large number of swing seats in play (Republicans in swing districts frequently bailed, sensing the Blue Wave and their own defeat) are in only a few states, including California, where Democrats already enjoy a 39-14 edge in the congressional delegation. But while there are other possible Democratic pickups, focus early on has been put on the seven Republican-held seats in districts won by Hillary Clinton – all of whom are considered highly endangered. In fact, two Republicans have resigned, so the strong Democratic candidates in those two Districts are running for an open seat, and the Democrats are favored in a few others, unless they’re a toss-up.
Trends and statistics worth watching include:
- Demographic shifts in support. Blue-collar workers were always a bastion of the Democrats, but they have been migrating to Republicans in recent years – especially Trump. On the other hand, suburban women leaned pretty Republican until recently, and have been trending blue rapidly – a trend which may be accelerating because of the Kavanaugh hearings.
- Generic polls. They ask whether a voter would generally prefer a Democratic or a Republican as their Congressional representative, without a name attached. Although not a perfect poll, Democratic leads have ranged from 12-14 points (a year ago, and again now) to just a few (a few months ago).
- Parties’ enthusiasm level. So far, the Democrats also have a big lead here, with voter turnout much bigger than four years ago (the last mid-term primaries), and some cases hugely so, and much bigger than the Republicans’ modest increase. Presumably, that will be true in November as well, barring some Trump Administration “October surprise.”
- Pollsters and Pundits. House races aren’t polled as often (or at all) as Senate races, but several prominent pundits rank the competitiveness of House seats, above and beyond just the percentages of Democrats and Republicans. In recent months, and increasingly, more and more of the crucial few dozen swing seats keep moving in the Democratic direction (from “leans Republican” to “tossup” to “leans Democratic”).
- Republican divisions to look at for the future. Even most Republicans would probably have been unlikely to predict how thoroughly Trump would have taken over the Republican Party, and certainly not most Democrats, but here we are. But Republican House candidates’ need to embrace Trump may cause problems with moderate voters (who mostly don’t like Trump), and cause those Republicans to lose general elections – if not next month, then in 2020.
- Democratic divisions to look at for the future. Too much was probably made of the Bernie-Hillary split; of course progressives want more progressive candidates, and moderates want more moderate ones, and both think their candidates are likely to win more elections. But in some districts (usually moderate ones), clearly moderates are a better choice, while in safe blue districts, progressives can often win.
Prediction: Senate: tossup; House: leans Democratic
Note: The views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and are not intended to reflect those of MCBA nor is this column an endorsement of any candidate.
Greg Brockbank is a 30+ year attorney and civic and political activist, having served for 22 years on the College of Marin Board of Trustees and then on the San Rafael City Council. He is the senior member and immediate past chair of the Marin Democratic Party governing board and has attended 30+ state Democratic conventions. For over 20 years, he has provided numerous groups with detailed lists of the contact info for all candidates for Marin’s local offices, and appears as a commentator and election-night co-host on public access television.