How to Watch the Primary's Biggest Story
“I am not a member of any organized political party,” Will Rogers, the iconic Renaissance man of vaudeville, famously said. “I am a Democrat.”
He didn’t know the half of it.
At a time when Republicans exercise hegemony in Washington, from the White House to Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court, Democratic hopes of wielding a shred of national power before the next presidential election rest on seizing control of the House of Representatives in 2018's mid-terms.
Tonight’s California primary election results will provide a crucial bellwether of whether they can get out of their own way long enough to have a chance.
As voters here and across the state cast ballots for candidates to compete for offices from city council to governor, primary returns from three once-obscure Southern California congressional districts will provide pivotal information about the most consequential political question facing the nation:
Will Donald Trump face any serious institutional political resistance to his authoritarian, plutocratic and narcissistic, pro-gun, anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ, right-wing agenda?
By the numbers. To capture a majority in the 435-member House, Democrats must flip partisan control of at least 23 seats across the country.
Since the day Trump was elected, national Democratic strategists have focused on ousting Republican incumbents in congressional districts where Hillary Clinton defeated him in 2016.
The game plan always was based in true-blue California, where Republicans hold only 14 of 53 seats, and where Democrats saw top-priority pickup opportunities in at least seven districts, spread across Orange, San Diego, Inland Empire and Central Valley counties.
Within a year of Trump’s inauguration, nearly 70 Democratic wannabes had begun campaigning for Republican-held districts – dozens more than ran for those seats in the past three congressional elections combined.
The problem: California’s non-partisan “jungle primary” rules sends the first and second place finishers in the June election into a fall runoff - regardless of party.
So crowded Democratic fields in some key districts increased the chances of splintering the party’s bloc of voters – opening the door for two Republicans to advance to the general election and freeze out the Dems in traditionally GOP-leaning areas.
As a practical matter, of course, whether Democrats succeed in winning the House will not be determined until Nov. 6.
As a political matter, however, their chances of doing so will be markedly curtailed if they fail even to qualify a candidate for the fall ballot with ripe opportunities, provided courtesy of vulnerable Republicans, or GOP members who have chosen to quit Trump's Washington.
Names makes news. In Tuesday’s voting, there are at least three districts where Democrats are in jeopardy of dealing a grievous blow to their own comeback chances and getting locked out in November. National party leaders and self-funded candidates have invested tens of millions of dollars in these seats, where political insiders will be watching these names closely tonight:
-The 39th District (Orange, L.A. and San Bernardino counties).
Republican incumbent Ed Royce is retiring, and two well-known local GOP pols – former assembly member Young Kim and Bob Huff, ex-GOP state senate leader – could finish at the top, pushing out closely bunched, lesser-known Democrats.
Although two competitive contenders among the party’s large field dropped out at the behest of national Democrats, four remain, led by Navy veteran Gil Cisneros, the choice of the national party, plus insurance executive and Bernie Bro favorite Andy Thorburn, pediatrician Mai Khann Tran and former congressional aide Sam Jammal.
The 48th District (Orange County).
While GOP incumbent and Vladimir Putin fan boy Dana Rohrabacher is considered weak, Republican ex-state legislator and longtime local party activist Scott Baugh has been surging.
This political calculus could shut out disunited Democrats, led by businessman Harley Rouda – endorsed by the national party - and scientist and self-funder Hans Keirstead – who is backed by the state Democratic Party.
The 49th Congressional District (San Diego and Orange counties).
Longtime GOP Rep. Darrell Issa is calling it quits, but a pair of local Republican political veterans – Assembly member Rocky Chavez and Board of Equalization member Diane Harkey – could triumph ahead of a divided and divisive Democratic field, which includes former Marine Corps officer Doug Applegate, who came close to knocking off Issa two years ago, and wealthy millennial candidate Sara Jacobs.
“It’s a disaster,” physician and Democratic voter Gail Reisman, a native of Toronto, told political writer Jonathan Martin after a recent crowded campaign forum in Orange County. “If we have two Republicans running, I think I’m going back to Canada.”
Don't forget to vote.
Images: Will Rogers (wikipedia); the 46 percent 45th President of the U.S.; map of 39th Congressional District (dailykos.com); the 48th Congressional District (indivisibleOC48.com); 49th CD (voicesofthe49th.com)