Democrats Appear to Have Dodged a Political Nightmare in California

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Tuesday’s primary in California was arguably the most important American election since November 2016. More than any other state, California holds the key to Democrats’ potential House takeover, as seven Republican-held seats in California were won by Hillary Clinton in 2016. And because of the weird way that California does elections, Tuesday had the potential to throw a huge wrench in Democrats’ plans for a wave well before the first ballot was even cast in November.

California has a “jungle primary,” which means that every candidate, regardless of party, is listed on the ballot and the top two finishers make it to the general election. Because a clear majority of people in California cannot fucking stand Donald Trump, a ton of Democrats filed to run in some of the most competitive House districts. And as a result of the disparity in the numbers of candidates from each party in some districts (in the 10th Congressional District, for example, there were two Republicans running and six Democrats), it was speculated that Democrats could lock themselves out of one or more winnable House districts in November by splitting their votes and allowing two Republicans to make it to the general election ballot.


Luckily for Democrats, that turned out to be wrong. Six Republicans finished first in their primaries, as was expected, and early on Wednesday it appeared that all six would be facing Democrats in November. (The seventh seat won by Clinton, the 21st Congressional District, only has two candidates, Republican congressman David Valadao and Democratic engineer TJ Cox.)


In the 39th District, an Orange County seat being vacated by Republican Ed Royce, Republican Young Kim and Democrat Gil Cisneros—a lottery winner and Navy vet former Republican backed by the DCCC—topped a field of 17. Complicating things for Cisneros was the fact that Los Angeles County apparently left over 118,000 people off the voting roster, a problem which impacted over a third of L.A. County’s 4,500-plus precincts, according to CNN. In the end, however, Cisneros was able to hold off a challenge from Democratic rival Andy Thorburn and Republican Phil Liberatore to take second place.


In another Orange County seat, the 45th Congressional District, incumbent Rep. Mimi Walters and Democrat Katie Porter, an Elizabeth Warren-endorsed consumer protection lawyer, advanced to the general election. And in another Orange County district, the 49th, which is being vacated by Republican Darrell Issa, Republican Diane Harkey and Democrat Mike Levin topped a field of 16.

Three other seats—the 10th, the 25th, and the 48th, all represented by Republicans running for re-election—were a lot closer. In the 10th, Republican Jeff Denham won easily, and second-place was a fight between venture capitalist Democrat Josh Harder and Republican veterinarian Ted Howze to see who would face him; Harder had a lead of less than a thousand votes with 80 percent of precincts counted.


If it sounds pretty dumb that the Democrats having a candidate in every competitive California House district in November can be considered a victory, that’s because it is dumb, and because everything is dumb.


California is also electing a new governor and has a big U.S. Senate race. As expected, Democratic lieutenant governor Gavin Newsom placed first in the jungle primary for governor. Republican businessman John Cox, who was endorsed by Donald Trump, finished well ahead of former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, ensuring that Republicans at least have a say in the governor’s race. While Newsom is heavily favored to win in the general, Cox making the general is seen as a potential turnout booster for House Republicans.

For progressives, the marquee California race was in the Senate, where longtime incumbent Dianne Feinstein was expected to win but the battle for #2 was a tossup. Early Wednesday morning, former state Senate leader Kevin de León—who is running on Feinstein’s left flank on issues like healthcare and educationappeared to capture the #2 spot from Republican James Bradley, which would mean Republicans would be shut out of the general election for the second straight U.S. Senate race in California.


It also appeared that the Democrats might lock out Republicans in the general election for lieutenant governor, as Democrats Eleni Kounalakis (a former ambassador to Hungary under Obama) and Ed Hernandez (a state assemblyman) led the pack, with Republican Cole Harris in third.

In addition to the high-profile California races, there were primaries in New Mexico, Montana, and South Dakota.

  • In New Mexico’s Second Congressional District, where Republican Steve Pearce retired to run for governor, EMILY’s List and DCCC-backed lawyer Xochitl Torres Small won the Democratic nomination over Madeline Hildebrandt. In November, she’ll face state representative Yvette Herrell, who won the Republican nomination.
  • In New Mexico’s First Congressional District, a Democratic-leaning district currently represented by Michelle Lujan Grisham, progressive Deb Haaland won the Democratic nomination. Haaland backs a federal jobs guarantee and Medicare for All; if elected, she would be the first Native American woman to ever serve in Congress.
  • In New Mexico’s gubernatorial race, it’ll be the two members of Congress—Pearce and Lujan Grisham—facing off against each other in November to succeed term-limited Republican Susana Martinez.
  • In Montana, state auditor Matt Rosendale won a crowded Senate GOP primary, and will take on incumbent Democratic Sen. Jon Tester in November. In the Montana congressional district, two Democrats—Kathleen Williams and John Heenan—were neck and neck for the chance to take on Congressman Greg Gianforte, who body-slammed a reporter last year and then won promptly won a special election to Congress.