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2018 California Primary Election Summary

While there were no big surprises from Tuesday’s election, there were a number of key races, at the state and federal level, which will impact California’s political landscape and possibly the balance of power in Washington D.C.

Statewide Elections

Below are the results of statewide elections and the races in which there was uncertainty about who would advance to the General Election, additional commentary/context is provided.

Gubernatorial Race:  Gavin Newsom (D) 33.4% vs John Cox (R) 26.2%

As Governor Brown is termed out of office, this was an open seat.  Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom (D) has long been the frontrunner in this race and secured his place in the general election as the top vote getter.  Because of California’s “top two primary system” in which the two top candidates advance to the fall election regardless of party affiliation, the other candidates were fighting for the number 2 slot.  Recognizing that California is a solid democratic state, many moderates and business groups viewed former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (D) as the candidate best positioned to challenge Newsom in the general.  However, Villaraigosa came in third (13.4%) and did not advance to the general election.

Republican John Cox, buoyed by the endorsement of President Trump, secured the second spot but has virtually no chance of winning.  For Congressional Republicans and the President, Cox’ second place finish is viewed a victory as there was concern that the lack of a republican candidate at the top of the ticket would suppress republican turnout and thus, would negatively impact other races, especially the congressional races upon which current republican control of the house rests.

Lieutenant Governor:  Eleni Kounalakis (D) 23.4% vs Ed Hernandez (D) 20.7%

Aided by $9 million of familial money, developer contacts and an independent expenditure campaign run by the California Medical Association, Eleni Kounalakis, an ex-ambassador to Hungary, edged out State Senator Ed Hernandez for the top spot.  Senator Hernandez, an optometrist, has drawn the ire of the Medical Association for his efforts, as the Senate Health Committee Chairperson, to expand healthcare access to citizens by expanding the scope of practice for certain health care providers.  Those efforts put him in the crosshairs of the Medical Association who opposed his efforts.

Ms. Kounalakis has positioned herself as the progressive candidate, whereas, Senator Hernandez has a long track record as a moderate legislative member.

Secretary of State:  Alex Padilla (D) 51.4% vs Mark Meuser (R) 32%

Controller:  Betty Yee (D) 60.9% vs Konstantinos Roditis (R) 35%

Treasurer:  Fiona Ma (D) 43.2% vs Greg Conlon (R) 22%

Attorney General:  Xavier Becerra (D) 45.3% vs Stephen Bailey (R) 25.3%

Upending what would have been an open seat, Governor Brown appointed former Congressman Xavier Becerra to this position when Kamala Harris was elected to the U.S. Senate.  Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, who declared his candidacy early for this race, was severely disadvantaged by the appointment.  He was further handicapped when the Governor endorsed Becerra.  While Jones put forth a notable effort, he came in third place (14.6%) as the Republican candidate a came in second.  Stephen Bailey, a retired judge, likely benefitted from republican turnout for John Cox.

Insurance Commissioner:  Steve Poizer (NPP) 41.3% vs Ricardo Lara (D) 40.6%

Former Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner made history as the first independent candidate to advance to the general election for a constitutional office.  In his previous stint as Insurance Commissioner, Poizner was a registered Republican.  State Senator Ricardo Lara came in second place.  Despite spending huge sums of money on television ads, Dr. Asif Mahmood (D), a complete unknown in the political world, received only 13% of the ballot.

Superintendent of Public Instruction (nonpartisan): Marshall Tuck 37.1% vs Tony Thurmond 34.3%


District Elections

Board of Equalization District 1:  Tom Hallinan (D) 38.3% vs Ted Gaines (R) 32.8%

This is a very conservative part of the state and this is one of the few districts that bucks the “California blue trend.”  Thus, State Senator Ted Gaines will handily win this race.

Board of Equalization District 2:  Malia Cohen (D) 36.2% vs Mark Burns (R) 28.6%

State Senator Cathleen Galgiani placed third in this race with 26.1% and thus, did not make the general election.

Board of Equalization District 3: G. Rick Marshall (R) 27.3% and Tony Vazquez (D) 20.8%

Board of Equalization District 4:  Joel Anderson (R) 31.6% and John Kelly (R) 17.3%

Senate District (SD) 29 Special Election:  Newman Recalled 60% yes vs 40% no

SD 29 voters recalled Senator Josh Newman because of his vote on legislation to increase the gas tax to fund transportation improvements.  This seat will be filled by former Assemblywoman Ling Ling Chang (R) who lost this race to Mr. Newman in 2016. Most importantly, because of this recall, the democrats will no longer have a supermajority in the Senate.

Senate District 32 Special and Primary Election: Two Elections

There was a special election to fill a vacancy created by Senator Tony Mendoza’s resignation over allegations of improper behavior.  As this seat was up for election this year, SD 32 voters had to vote twice – first to fill the vacancy and then again for the regular primary election.  Voters were asked first to choose from among 11 candidates to complete Mr. Mendoza’s current term, which ends in December, and then among the candidates competing to fill the seat for the new term that begins in January.

Mendoza was on both ballots, but did not land in the top two positions for either race.  The Republican candidate, Rita Topalian, placed first in both races:  25.3% in the special election and 24.6% in the primary.  In the special election, Democrat Venessa Deldago came in second with 16.3% but placed third behind fellow Democrat Bob Archuleta (17.8%) for the primary.  Thus, Topalian and Delgado will face off in the August runoff to fill the remainder of this year’s term but in November, Topalian (no matter if she wins or loses in August) will face Archuleta for the next four-year term for this seat.

Assembly District (AD) 26:  Devon Mathis (R) 30.2% vs Jose Sigala (D) 29.6%

In this republican seat, Mr. Sigala is trailing Assemblymember Mathis only by 202 votes.  Mr. Mathis was besieged with serious allegations of sexual misconduct/crimes and other bad behavior but the alleged victim told investigators that the actives were consensual and thus, Mr. Mathis was never investigated or charged with a crime.  The other republican in this race, Visalia mayor Warren Gubler, is currently in third place and is only trailing Mr. Sigala by 314 votes.

Assembly District 39 Special Election:  Luz Maria Rivas (D) 69% vs Ricardo Benitez (R) 30.2%

Luz Maria Rivas, a former Los Angeles public works commissioner, defeated Republican Ricardo Antonio Benitez, a business owner, in the race to complete the term of Raul Bocanegra, who resigned in November 2017 in the face of sexual harassment allegations.

Assembly District 45 Special Election:  Jesse Gabriel (D) 63.8% vs Justin Clark (R) 36.2%

Jesse Gabriel, a constitutional rights attorney and a member of the county Commission on Local Government Services, beat Republican Justin Clark, a 19-year-old Cal State Northridge student, to fill the remainder of the term of former Assemblymember Matt Dababneh. Mr. Dababneh resigned due to harassment allegations.

Assembly District 58:  Christina Garcia (D) 28.7% vs Mike Simpfenderfer (R) 26.7%

Assemblymember Garcia was investigated by the Assembly Rules Committee for improper conduct, and while censured for inappropriate remarks was cleared of sexual misconduct allegations.  Nevertheless, she was targeted by the State Building & Construction Trades for comments she made about them for their compromise on cap and trade legislation.  Regardless, she managed to receive to 28.7% of the vote to face a republican in November.  This is considered a safe democratic seat.

Assembly District 76:  Elizabeth Warren (D) 25.7% vs Tasha Boerner Horvath (D) 25.2%

This is currently a republican seat but the incumbent, Republican Rocky Chavez, ran for Congress, making this an open race and turning a safe republican seat into competitive one.  As the top two qualifiers for this seat are democrats, this seat represents a pick-up for the Assembly supermajority.  Republican Phil Graham, step-son of former Republican Governor Pete Wilson came in third place, five points behind Ms. Horvath.

Assembly District 63:  Speaker Anthony Rendon (D) 46.8% vs Maria Estrada (D) 28.2%

This race is of note only because the California Nurses Association (CNA), upset over the Speaker’s decision to shelve single-payer legislation, ran a primary challenger, Ms. Estrada, against Mr. Rendon.  It is not yet clear if CNA will continue to fund this race through November.


Ballot Measures

Proposition 68:  $4 billion Park, environmental protection & water infrastructure bond    PASSED

Yes – 56%

No – 44%

Proposition 69:  Requires gas tax revenue to be used for transportation purposes              PASSED

Yes – 80%

No – 20%

Proposition 70:  One-time two-thirds vote to use cap-and-trade revenue                               FAILED

Yes –36.4%

No – 63.6%

Proposition 71:  Changes the effective date of voter-approved ballot measures                    PASSED

Yes – 77%

No – 23 %

Proposition 72:  Excludes rainwater capture systems from property tax assessments         PASSED

Yes – 83%

No – 17%

Federal Races

As expected, Senator Diane Feinstein cruised to the top spot for the U.S. Senate with 43.8 percent of the vote in a very large field.  Former Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de Leon, who is positioning himself as the progressive challenger to the moderate Feinstein, came in second place with a distant 11.3%.  De Leon faces several challenges to unseating the longtime sitting Senator.  Specifically, he suffers from very low statewide name identification and more important, a lack of sufficient funds to match Feinstein’s war chest.

National political pundits speculated that California’s “top two primary” could result in democratic candidates being shut out of the competitive races needed to strip control of the U.S. House of Representatives from the republicans.  However, that did not happen in any of the districts and the democrats still view those seats as key to their national strategy.  Thus, national republican leaders are pleased that there is a republican gubernatorial candidate on the ballot which they hope will drive republican turnout California, a very blue state.