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Field Poll memo: Why GOP wave missed California

By Josh Richman
Friday, November 14th, 2014 at 2:43 pm in 2014 general, polls

California was an exception to the Republican wave that swept the nation in Nov. 4’s low-turnout midterm election in part because Californians are happier than the rest of the nation with how things are going, according to a new Field Poll memo.

Mark DiCamillo“At the time of this year’s election, the average of national polls showed that more voters disapproved than approved of the job President Obama was doing 53 percent to 42 percent,” wrote Field Poll Director Mark DiCamillo. “By contrast, in California more voters approved than disapproved of the job their chief executive Governor Jerry Brown was doing 58 percent to 36 percent. In addition, the direction of change in voter assessments was moving in the opposite directions, with Obama’s ratings trending downward, and Brown’s on the rise.”

Likewise, “for some time now many more Americans have felt the country was seriously off on the wrong track than have believed it was moving in the right direction,” DiCamillo wrote. “The average of the national polls at the time of the election showed that 66 percent of U.S. voters felt the country was seriously off on the wrong track, while just 28 percent felt it was moving in the right direction.”

But in California, the most recent Field Poll “showed slightly more voters here believing the state was heading in the right direction than seriously off on the wrong track, 43 percent to 41 percent, and that over time it was trending in the positive direction.”

Nationally, 81 percent disapprove of Congress’ job performance while just 13 percent approve. “In California, while voters have not been wild about the job performance of the state legislature – the most recent Field Poll shows 34 percent approving and 42 percent disapproving – views about its performance have been improving compared to prior years,” DiCamillo noted.

Exit polls conducted by Edison Media Research for NBC and CNN found that when voters nationwide were asked about the influence that President Obama had on their voting preferences in their local House races, more said theirs was a vote against President Obama (33 percent) than said it was a vote in support of him (19 percent), while the rest said he wasn’t a factor. But the reverse was true when California voters were asked the same question, with more saying their House vote was a vote in support of Obama than a vote against him, 28 percent to 22 percent.

And when asked to assess the nation’s health insurance reform law, slightly more voters nationwide (49 percent) felt the law went too far than said it was about right or didn’t go far enough (46 percent) – but here in California, the exit poll showed a 54 percent majority saying the law was about right or didn’t go far enough, while just 38 percent felt it went too far.

The exit polls also found Californians likelier than the nation as a whole to support the government’s response to the Ebola crisis and to support same-sex marriage.

Not only is California’s electorate less white than the rest of the nation’s, but while exit polls showed whites across the nation generally voted Republican in House races by a wide margin, California’s white voters split evenly between Democrats and Republicans in the contests for six partisan down-ballot statewide offices. Combined with wider margins for Democrats in the population-rich coastal counties than for Republicans in the sparser-populated inland counties, this was a recipe for a blue victory, DiCamillo wrote.

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Eric Swalwell elected as regional Democratic whip

By Josh Richman
Friday, November 14th, 2014 at 12:54 pm in Eric Swalwell, U.S. House

Rep. Eric Swalwell was elected by his House Democratic peers Friday to serve as regional whip for Northern California, Hawaii and the Pacific Islands.

Eric SwalwellEach region’s members elect a regional whip to work with Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., in keeping Democratic members informed and in line on important votes. Swalwell, D-Dublin, in his first term had been appointed an assistant whip to do a similar job among Democratic freshmen.

Swalwell said he’s “honored to continue being part of the Democratic leadership” and thanks his colleagues for electing him. “I look forward to continuing to advance Democratic priorities that will support middle class families and lead to economic growth.”

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, who chairs the California Democratic Delegation, said Swalwell has proven to be an effective lawmaker “who has earned the confidence of his California colleagues. As Region II Whip he will continue to be an important part of our California delegation as he works to advance the Democratic agenda and serve our state.”

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CA17: Thoughts on whether Khanna will run again

By Josh Richman
Tuesday, November 11th, 2014 at 11:55 am in Mike Honda, U.S. House

Someone just asked me – in a Facebook comment beneath my Monday-morning quarterbacking of the 17th Congressional District race – whether I think Ro Khanna will run again in 2016. I wrote a lengthy reply, and then thought, “Hey, this looks like a blog item!”

My slightly modified answer: I honestly don’t know – a lot depends on whether Mike Honda keeps his victory-speech “promise” that this won’t be his last term.

If he runs against Honda again, it’s hard to see how anything will have changed in his favor in 2016.

    1.) He’ll be starting with $0 instead of the $1.2 million he’d raised when people thought he would succeed Stark.
    2.) Honda will be at least the same candidate as he is today – he’s not scandal-prone, so I doubt there’d be many new negatives – and might be better, after having the next two years in which to step up his legislative game.
    3.) The bigger turnout of a presidential year – when Californians will be flocking to the polls to elect a Democratic president – may or may not help him. Yes, I know Khanna believes bigger youth, independent and Republican turnout this year would’ve put him over the top. But 2016 will see many more older Democrats turning out as well, and given their registration margin in the district, the overall increase could still break in Honda’s favor.

And it would be hard for Khanna to run in any other incumbent. Given his 2004 primary challenge vs. Tom Lantos, his hope to succeed Pete Stark in 2012, and this year’s run against Honda, trying again in a fourth district would give credence to those who call him a carpetbagger, and would deprive him of the grassroots support and Silicon Valley identity he has already built.

But an open seat might be a different story. Consider the ages of many of the local members: Honda, 73; Anna Eshoo, 71; Zoe Lofgren, 66. Even presidential coattails won’t help Democrats re-take the House in 2016, and if any of these were to tire of being in the minority and decide to retire, I think Khanna could make a credible play for the seat assuming he’s not up against a party-endorsed, better-funded foe. That means Khanna will have some fence-mending to do with the party, though…

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CA17: A little more Khanna-Honda post-mortem

By Josh Richman
Monday, November 10th, 2014 at 7:53 am in 2014 general, Mike Honda, U.S. House

My story in today’s editions explores why Ro Khanna’s campaign to unseat Rep. Mike Honda didn’t succeed, but there was more to my interview with Khanna than we had room for in this article.

I sat down with Khanna minutes after he delivered his concession speech Friday night. At that time, Honda led in unofficial returns by 3,658 votes, or 3.66 percentage points. Another 27,853 votes have been tallied in Santa Clara and Alameda counties since then, and as of Monday morning, Honda leads by 4,637 votes, or 3.62 percentage points.

CONGRESSMAN CANDIDATE RO KHANNAFirst, some more math. Khanna had said Friday that he and his consultants had hoped 150,000 to 160,000 votes would be cast in this race; in a district of about 296,000 voters, that would’ve meant turnout of about 51 to 54 percent. As of Monday morning, only about 128,000 ballots have been tallied – a turnout of only about 43 percent – and as Khanna notes in the story, his key constituencies of young voters, independents and Republicans were among the least likely to vote.

In Election Day’s earliest returns – absentee ballots that came in early enough that they’d already been processed by 8 p.m. Tuesday – Honda led by about 7 percentage points, a lead that narrowed later that night and in the following days. Khanna said that indicates Honda did better among earlier voters, while he was far more competitive among those who did their vote-by-mail ballots at the last minute or who voted at the polls on Election Day.

“We’d always said this was a race against time,” he said Friday. “If we’d had a couple more weeks, maybe we would’ve pulled ahead.”

Also, Khanna was more effusive in his praise of his deepest-pocketed supporter than I could fully explain in the story.

I had pressed Khanna about the $857,000 spent by Californians for Innovation, the super PAC formed by his supporters to do independent spending on his behalf; much of that spending came in the campaign’s final month, and about half that money was contributed late enough that the donors’ identities won’t be revealed until December.

I asked whether this had been a double-edged sword for him – the radio ads and mailers kept his name out there after his own campaign had run out of money, but the independent and somewhat shadowy spending might’ve discomfited some supporters who had been proud to back a candidate who shunned PAC and lobbyist donations to his own campaign. Khanna said he was OK with it.

“I was very open to say that if there were supporters who wanted to come to our defense, they should” – and he’s thankful that they did, he said. “I’m glad that there was someone there to set the record straight, I didn’t discourage it… but I think it’s unfortunate that we had to go there.”

The biggest super PAC donors – at $250,000 – were Texas energy hedge fund billionaire John Arnold and his wife. Honda’s late ads noted Arnold had worked at Enron, a company which before its collapse in 2002 had gamed California’s electricity grid to cost the state’s residents billions of dollars in surcharges.

“I do know John Arnold, we had a long conversation about pension reform and his desire for new leadership in the Democratic Party,” Khanna said, noting Arnold has also supported Democrats like outgoing San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed and Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis. “The idea that he’s a right-wing kind of person is just false… He and his wife are an incredibly decent couple and I’m very proud of their support. I regret that they were attacked in the campaign, I think they’re good people.”

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Barbara Lee goes toe to toe with Stephen Colbert

By Josh Richman
Sunday, November 9th, 2014 at 5:49 pm in Barbara Lee, U.S. House

In all of last week’s election excitement, I missed Stephen Colbert’s sublimely enjoyable interview with Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, as part of his “Better Know a District” series. Here’s a teaser for the episode, wherein Colbert makes Lee a proposal she can definitely refuse:

But wait, it gets soooo much better. Click here to watch the segment in its entirety.

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Mark Meuser will seek DeSaulnier’s senate seat

By Josh Richman
Friday, November 7th, 2014 at 2:33 pm in California State Senate, Joan Buchanan, Mark DeSaulnier, Susan Bonilla

The ink isn’t dry yet on Democrat Mark DeSaulnier’s win in the election to succeed Rep. George Miller in the 11th Congressional District, but the jockeying for DeSaulnier’s state Senate seat is already under way.

Walnut Creek attorney Mark Meuser, a Republican who got 38.5 percent of the vote in his 2012 run against DeSaulnier for the 7th State Senate District seat, announced Friday that he’ll run in the special election Gov. Jerry Brown must call to fill the vacancy.

Mark Meuser “Mark Meuser’s priority is to insure that your future, your children’s future, and California’s future is bright,” Meuser’s news release said. “The spirit of entrepreneurs in California is as strong today as it was during the gold rush. It needs an advocate in Sacramento, and Meuser wants to be that advocate. Ensuring that our communities stay strong—and grow stronger—requires a long-term vision for future generations, and Meuser has that vision. It is time to elect a representative to Sacramento who will fight for the citizens of Contra Costa and Alameda counties.”

Meuser’s declaration of candidacy isn’t so surprising, given his 2012 run and his creation earlier this year of the Bay Area Republican Political Action Committee, funded largely out of his own pocket.

Two prominent Democrats – Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, who just won re-election, and Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, who is term-limited out this year – are interested in the 7th State Senate District seat as well.

If a candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote in this special primary, he or she will win outright; otherwise, the top two vote-getters will advance to a special general election.

The district’s voter registration is 43.5 percent Democrat, 28.6 percent Republican and 22.2 percent nonpartisan. Even if Buchanan and Bonilla split the Democratic vote in what’s likely to be a super-low-turnout election, it’ll be quite an uphill climb for Meuser either to reach the majority needed to win the primary outright or to prevail against either Democrat in the general.

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John Garamendi seeks T&I ranking member post

By Josh Richman
Thursday, November 6th, 2014 at 9:58 am in John Garamendi, Transportation, U.S. House

A Northern California congressman is making a play to become the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee’s ranking member.

Current ranking member Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., was defeated Tuesday in his bid for an 18th term. The panel’s next-most-senior Democrat is Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., already is the Natural Resources Committee’s ranking member but reportedly now more interested in this slot.

After DeFazio come 15 more Democrats (two of whom won’t be back next year) – and then comes Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove.

John Garamendi“A demonstrated ability to preserve Democratic ideals while working across the aisle to get things done will be crucial in the next Congress, and particularly in this Committee,” Garamendi wrote in a letter sent Wednesday to the Democratic Caucus.

“With major legislative initiatives on the horizon that include surface transportation, FAA, and Amtrak reauthorization, the Democratic transportation agenda calls for a strong, inclusive, proactive leader who looks beyond divisive dualities to facilitate opportunity, momentum, and results,” he wrote. “This is the leadership I aim to bring.”

Garamendi’s letter cites his work in Congress on water infrastructure, domestic shipyards and the U.S. Merchant Marine, but also harkens back to his California work.

“Most notably, in 1990, I authored SCA 1, which became California Proposition 111,” wrote Garamendi, who at that time was a state senator. “Among the most important transportation propositions in California history, this measure ensured government expenditure limits would not unnecessarily restrict the infrastructure improvements needed to keep pace with California’s population and economic growth.”

“The initiative led to voter approval of an $18.5 billion transportation package that helped improve roads and transit corridors throughout the state,” he wrote. “For this work, I was named Legislator of the Year by the League of California Cities, and to this day, Prop 111 provides funding for cash-strapped highways and public transit systems in California.”

The other California Democrats on the Transportation Committee are Grace Napolitano, D-El Monte, who has more seniority than Garamendi, and Janice Hahn, D-San Pedro, who has less.

The Democratic Caucus is expected to vote on ranking-member appointments in December.

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Fun with numbers: Statewide candidates

By Josh Richman
Thursday, November 6th, 2014 at 8:23 am in 2014 general, Gov. Jerry Brown, Jerry Brown, Neel Kashkari, Secretary of State

I thought it might be interesting to see in which counties some of our statewide candidates did best, per the unofficial results as they stand this morning.

The Democrats did best in the Bay Area – shocker! The Republicans most-concentrated support was found mostly in sparsely-populated far Northern California, including several counties – Modoc, Glenn and Tehama – that have signaled their desire to secede from the Golden State. In controller candidate Ashley Swearengin’s case, some southern Central Valley counties – Madera and Tulare – ranked high, too, perhaps due to her name recognition as nearby Fresno’s mayor.

Gov. Jerry Brown (D)
1.) San Francisco – 87.5 percent
2.) Alameda – 80.9 percent
3.) Marin – 78 percent
4.) Santa Cruz – 77.9 percent
5.) (tie) San Mateo and Sonoma – 74.2 percent

Neel Kashkari (R)
1.) Modoc – 72.6 percent
2.) Lassen – 67.2 percent
3.) Glenn – 65.9 percent
4.) Tehama – 64.6 percent
5.) Madera – 62.6 percent

Secretary of State-elect Alex Padilla (D)
1.) San Francisco – 77.7 percent
2.) Alameda – 72.9 percent
3.) Santa Cruz – 69.5 percent
4.) Marin – 68.9 percent
5.) Sonoma – 66.1 percent

Pete Peterson (R)
1.) Modoc – 74 percent
2.) Glenn – 73.1 percent
3.) Lassen – 72.7 percent
4.) Tehama 70.2 percent
5.) Sutter – 66.7 percent

Controller-elect Betty Yee (D)
1.) San Francisco – 80.6 percent
2.) Alameda – 75.1 percent
3.) Santa Cruz – 71.4 percent
4.) Marin – 70.6 percent
5.) Sonoma – 68.2 percent

Ashley Swearengin (R)
1.) Modoc – 71.4 percent
2.) (tie) Lassen and Glenn – 71.1 percent
3.) Tulare – 67.7 percent
4.) Tehama – 67.3 percent
5.) Madera – 66.4 percent

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Fun with numbers: Bay Area House races

By Josh Richman
Wednesday, November 5th, 2014 at 1:23 pm in 2014 general, Anna Eshoo, Barbara Lee, Eric Swalwell, Jackie Speier, Jared Huffman, Jerry McNerney, Mark DeSaulnier, Mike Thompson, Nancy Pelosi, Sam Farr, U.S. House, Zoe Lofgren

As we await a final result in the 17th District’s Mike Honda/Ro Khanna showdown, here’s how the rest of the Bay Area House races look at this hour, in order from widest margin of victory to narrowest:

    13th District: Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, 87.3% vs. Dakin Sundeen (R), 12.7% (74.6 points)
    12th District: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, 82.4%, vs. John Dennis (R), 17.6% (64.8 points)
    14th District: Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, 75.9% vs. Robin Chew (R), 24.1% (51.8 points)
    5th District: Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa, 75.4% vs. James Hinton (i), 24.6% (50.8 points)
    20th District: Rep. Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz, 74.4% vs. Ronald Kabat (i), 25.6% (48.8 points)
    2nd District: Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, 73.6% vs. Dale Mensing (R), 26.4% (47.2 points)
    15th District: Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin, 69% vs. Hugh Bussell (R), 31% (38 points)
    19th District: Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, 66.8% vs. Robert Murray (D), 33.2% (33.6 points)
    18th District: Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, 66.3% vs. Richard Fox (R), 33.7% (32.6 points)
    11th District: State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, 66.2% vs. Tue Phan (R), 33.8% (32.4 points)
    9th District: Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton, 51.5% vs. Tony Amador (R), 48.5% (3 points)

Yes, that 9th District race was awfully close – especially since this was the first year since McNerney took office that he wasn’t on the National Republican Congressional Committee’s hit list.

For comparison, McNerney beat Republican Ricky Gill by 11.2 points in 2012 in this district; in his old 11th District, he had beat Republican David Harmer by 1.1 point in 2010, Republican Dean Andal by 10.6 points in 2008; and incumbent Republican Richard Pombo by 6.6 points in 2006. Gill and Harmer both were NRCC “Young Guns,” garnering national support and advice, while the NRCC also worked on Andal’s behalf and GOP luminaries like John Boehner and John McCain shared stages with him.

In other words, most of the times when the NRCC targeted McNerney as vulnerable, it turned out that he really wasn’t; this year, as the NRCC paid the district little mind, Amador came within striking distance. Oops! But that doesn’t mean McNerney will be similarly vulnerable in 2016, when a bigger presidential-year turnout will favor Democrats; for Republicans, this looks like an opportunity missed.

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Musings on the state GOP, Congress, pot & Kansas

By Josh Richman
Wednesday, November 5th, 2014 at 11:08 am in 2014 general, Assembly, California State Senate, marijuana, Republican Party, Republican politics, U.S. House, U.S. Senate

A few observations on Tuesday’s elections, with a hat tip to my colleagues Paul Rogers and Ken McLaughlin for their thoughts:

CALIFORNIA GOP: Tuesday’s results seem to be a vindication and victory for the “Brulte Doctrine,” spelled out by the state GOP chairman at his party’s convention in March: Don’t waste much effort trying to win unwinnable statewide races, but instead rebuild the party by “grinding it out on the ground” in local races – a strategy that will take several election cycles to bear larger fruit.

Despite their buzz, Ashley Swearengin and Pete Peterson couldn’t make it happen statewide: as it stands now, it looks like a 5.6-point loss for Swearengin in the controller’s race and a 5-point loss for Peterson in the secretary of state’s race. Those are respectable losses but losses nonetheless, and I submit that the GOP putting more money and party resources behind them might actually have resulted in wider margins of loss – I think they did this well in part by distancing themselves from partisanship.

Instead, Brulte’s GOP concentrated on denying Democrats their legislative supermajorities – and now it’s “mission accomplished” in the state Senate while the Assembly still hangs by a thread as vote-by-mail ballots are counted.

In doing so, the GOP is hatching a new generation of up-and-comers. Exhibit A: Catharine Baker, who at this hour is up 3.8 points over Democrat Tim Sbranti in the East Bay’s 16th Assembly District race. Baker, an attorney hailed as a cream-of-the-crop “California Trailblazer” at her party’s convention in March, was far outspent by Sbranti, who already had some name recognition among the electorate as Dublin’s mayor. But GOP officials and activists came from around the state to pound the pavement for her, and it looks like it could pay off with the first Bay Area Republican sent to Sacramento since Guy Houston was term-limited out (in the same part of the East Bay) in 2008.

CONGRESS: Anyone who’s surprised that Republicans took control of the U.S. Senate and gained seats in the House isn’t very well-versed in history. A two-term president’s party almost always loses ground in his sixth-year midterm.

Sure, President Barack Obama’s job-approval rating stood at 42 percent (per Gallup) on Tuesday. And President George W. Bush’s job approval was at 38 percent in November 2006 as Democrats picked up five Senate seats and 31 House seats, making Harry Reid the new Senate Majority Leader and Nancy Pelosi the new House Speaker. And President Ronald Reagan was riding high with a 63 percent job-approval rating in November 1986 (although he was about to take a precipitous dive as details of the Iran-Contra scandal came to light) as Democrats picked up eight Senate seats, putting Robert Byrd in the driver’s seat, and five House seats to cement the majority they already had.

The exception was President Bill Clinton, who saw his party pick up five House seats in 1998 – a stinging defeat that left Republicans in control but forced Newt Gingrich to resign as Speaker – while the Senate was a zero-sum game. Clinton, under fire for the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal, still was at a 66 percent job-approval rating at the time.

But Bubba always had a way of defying the odds.

MARIJUANA: If Oregon and Alaska got enough younger voters out to the polls in this midterm election to approve marijuana legalization, just imagine what California can do in 2016’s presidential election with an initiative forged in the trial-and-error of four other states’ experiences.

KANSAS: Kansas has had private-sector job growth that lags the rest of the country, and adopted tax cuts big enough to blow a still-widening hole in the state budget requiring school closings, teacher layoffs and increased class sizes – but doubled down with its Republican governor and Republican U.S. Senator. I guess you can lead a Jayhawk to water, but you can’t make it drink…

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