Home World Midterm Memo: California Democrats punish incumbents as November red wave builds

Midterm Memo: California Democrats punish incumbents as November red wave builds


It’s been a while since California had something useful to say to the rest of the country.

The Golden State was once a political trendsetter, nurturing two Republican presidents, including the iconic Ronald Reagan; fomenting a backlash against runaway government taxation via Proposition 13; cracking down on rampant crime with a three-strikes law; recalling an incumbent Democratic governor and replacing him with populist Republican film star Arnold Schwarzenegger; and accelerating the movement toward legalizing same-sex marriage. Those days seemed long gone — until Tuesday.

In a pair of municipal contests that coincided with California’s regularly scheduled primaries, voters in the two most consequential metropolises in the nation’s most populous state delivered what amounts to a dire warning to the Democratic Party ahead of the midterm elections in November. Amid anxiety over public safety and pervasive homelessness, voters in San Francisco recalled Democratic District Attorney Chesa Boudin, while voters in Los Angeles made Rick Caruso, a wealthy businessman and Democratic centrist, the favorite in a fall mayoral runoff with Rep. Karen Bass (D).

With all precincts reporting Wednesday, the Boudin recall had been approved with 60% of the vote, a 10% cushion. The ouster of the San Francisco district attorney prior to the end of his term comes on the heels of a February recall election that saw voters fire three members of the city’s school board. Meanwhile, in Southern California: Among votes for Los Angeles mayor tallied so far, Caruso led Bass 42% to 37%.

“Politics isn’t that complicated. If you are the party/candidate in charge and things aren’t going well, voters will punish you,” tweeted nonpartisan political analyst Amy Walter, publisher and editor-in-chief of the Cook Political Report with Amy Walter. “In SF/LA, homelessness & reports on crime have made voters feel less safe. It doesn’t mean these voters are pro-GOP or less liberal.”


In other words, even in deep-blue California, the Democrats are not finding shelter from the political storm of 2022, driven by dissatisfaction with President Joe Biden, poised to dislodge them from power in Congress. To be sure, what happened in San Francisco and Los Angeles this week hardly means a red wave is cresting over California. Gov. Gavin Newsom and most other Democrats running for statewide office who advanced to the November ballot in the state’s top-two, all-party primary will easily win this fall.

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And, in San Francisco and Los Angeles, the voters are on track to replace the Democrats they are so frustrated with — with yet more Democrats. Indeed, whereas 30 years ago, Los Angeles voters feeling similarly disgruntled with Democratic leadership were willing to entrust centrist Republican Richard Riordan with the keys to their city, Caruso might never have advanced to the runoff with Bass had he not abandoned the GOP some years ago and affiliated with the Democratic Party at the outset of his mayoral bid. Such are the depths Republicans have sunk to in California, especially since the rise of former President Donald Trump.

But if Democratic voters in ethnically diverse Democratic strongholds such as San Francisco and Los Angeles are punishing incumbent Democrats and pulling the lever for change because they feel ignored on issues they care about most, it’s not hard to imagine what awaits them elsewhere in the United States, in battleground states and swing House districts, where Republicans are competitive and the GOP brand is not toxic — to borrow a phrase from Walter: where voters are more hospitable toward the GOP and less liberal.

Perhaps the Democrats can stem their losses five months from now if they stop complaining their problems stem from false advertising peddled by Republicans and, as far as voters are concerned, prove more responsive to their priorities.

And now, to the field …

  • Alabama Senate race. Rep. Mo Brooks (R) is asking Trump for a do-over.

    The former president endorsed Brooks last June in the race for an open Alabama Senate seat, making the Republican congressman the immediate front-runner. Fast forward to March of this year — Trump unendorsed Brooks, who was sinking fast and looked like he was on track to lose Alabama’s May 24 primary. But Brooks recovered enough after Trump abandoned him to advance to a June 21 runoff with Katie Britt, former chief of staff for retiring Sen. Richard Shelby. Britt finished first in round one, garnering nearly 45% of the vote while outpacing Brooks by 15.5 percentage points. Now, with Britt the front-runner and widely expected to win the runoff, Brooks is throwing a Hail Mary of sorts and asking Trump to reendorse him.

    “Join me in asking President Trump to #ReEndorseMo,” Brooks tweeted in recent days.

    In a lengthy statement the congressman included with his Twitter post, he speculated Trump might have done him a favor by yanking his endorsement, saying it gave his flagging Senate campaign “the kick in the pants we needed. He was like a football coach, grabbing us by the facemask and getting us in gear.” A Trump spokesman declined to comment “at this time” as to whether the former president would be endorsing in the Britt-Brooks runoff. Republican insiders in Alabama do not expect Trump to endorse in this contest.

  • Arizona gubernatorial race. A poll of the race for the Republican nomination for governor in the Grand Canyon State, publicized Wednesday, suggests Trump-endorsed Kari Lake might be stagnating.

    Lake still leads but only narrowly, clinging to a 23% to 21% advantage over Karrin Taylor Robson, according to a survey from Arizona pollster OH Predictive Insights. Former Rep. Matt Salmon received 14%, with 4% choosing from the rest of the candidate field and 38% saying they were undecided. A loss by Lake in the Aug. 2 primary would be a double blow to Trump, who backed the former local television news anchor early in this closely watched contest.

    Lake’s failure to secure Arizona’s GOP gubernatorial nomination would further undermine Trump’s power over the party, and status as a kingmaker, after a string of similar defeats by his endorsed candidates, including in Georgia, Idaho, and Nebraska. Lake’s demise at the hands of Taylor Robson or any of her other Republican opponents also would bolster arguments from many Republican insiders that GOP voters, including those who support Trump, are tired of hearing him complain about his ouster by now-President Joe Biden.

    Lake is an outspoken purveyor of the former president’s unsupported claims that the 2020 election was stolen and that Biden’s victory in Arizona was fraudulent. Gov. Doug Ducey (R), among the Republicans Trump blames for the fact that he fell short, is retiring due to term limits.

    The OH Predictive Insights poll was conducted May 9-16 and had a margin of error of 5.85 percentage points.

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  • 2024 Watch. Trump remains the favorite to win the Republican nomination for president — if he mounts a third White House bid. But he might be less formidable than thought. That, at least, was the buzz after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis beat Trump in a straw poll at the Western Conservative Summit, an annual gathering of grassroots Republicans near Denver hosted by the Centennial Institute, a conservative think tank.

    DeSantis finished with 74% of the votes, with Trump close behind at 71%. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was third, with 43%, followed by former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at 39% and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott at 36%. According to a press release issued by the Centennial Institute, former Vice President Mike Pence trailed in 10th place. Pompeo and Pence, in particular, have signaled they plan to run for president in 2024 regardless of what Trump does. What DeSantis, Cruz, and Scott decide to do remains unclear.

    Trump has yet to reveal his plans for the next election cycle but continues to drop hints that another presidential campaign is in the offing. Speculation lately has revolved around when the former president might announce his bid — before or after this year’s midterm elections. In an NBC News report, some GOP insiders posited that Trump might announce in the next few months to marginalize other Republicans planning to run.

    Traditionally, Democrats and Republicans eyeing a presidential bid in a cycle in which their party does not control the White House wait until sometime after the midterm elections to launch their campaigns or begin making more overt moves to lay the foundation for a run.

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