A Few Good Fits for Desperately Hungry Republicans


The wave that swept Republicans back into power in blue states such as Colorado, Maryland, Maine, and Massachusetts didn’t quite reach California, the state that once produced Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. In fact, every Republican candidate for statewide constitutional office lost. Governor Jerry Brown creamed his Republican opponent—and Brown didn’t even run a campaign. Democrats maintained strong majorities in both legislative houses. So why are California GOP officials so giddy about how the election played out?

Two reasons come to mind. First, Republicans won three critical state senate races and stopped the Democrats from holding a supermajority in that body. Election night results looked good for Republican prospects in the state assembly, too, though the final counts in two races will determine whether the GOP prevents a Democratic supermajority in the lower house. Democrats need at least two-thirds of those seats to meet the state constitution’s threshold for passing tax increases. Republicans, as a rule, oppose every new tax increase in a state that already has the nation’s highest individual income-tax rate.

Second, while it still has no idea how to win a statewide election, the California GOP has figured out how to win in targeted districts—even in some that lean Democratic. In the last legislative session, Democrats lost their supermajority in the state senate after scandal drove three legislators from office. One was convicted of voter fraud and perjury, and two others face federal corruption charges. But Republicans chose not to focus on Democratic foibles. Instead, under the leadership of former state senator Jim Brulte, the party put its resources into a handful of winnable races.

Sacramento-based GOP political consultant Jeff Randle said that the Republicans “had to show incremental progress [Tuesday] night and we did that by winning with really good candidates.” Randle, who helps recruit viable candidates through the Trailblazers program, credited the party’s successes to its newfound emphasis on “finding candidates that match their districts.” The best example may be Senator Andy Vidak, a Spanish-speaking cherry farmer from the San Joaquin Valley. Though Democrats enjoy a 20-point voter-registration edge in Vidak’s heavily Latino district, voters in the politically moderate farm region tend to favor independence. Vidak, a cowboy hat-wearing conservative populist, beat his Democratic rival, Fresno school board trustee Luis Chavez, by 10 points.

Republicans also held a senate seat that many pollsters and professional political operatives predicted they would lose. Anthony Cannella, the former mayor of the San Joaquin Valley city of Ceres and son of former Democratic state assemblyman Sal Cannella, prevailed in part by drawing union support away from his Democratic challenger, Shawn Bagley. And Republicans scored a key win in ethnically diverse and politically competitive central Orange County, where county supervisor Janet Nguyen won a state senate seat in a race in which Republicans effectively tapped Asian support. Asians now represent 12 percent of California voters, and they turn out in higher percentages than many other ethnic groups. So Nguyen was another GOP candidate who matched well with her district.

In the assembly, the Republicans did well in all but one of their targeted races. In the eastern Bay Area, the socially moderate Catherine Baker took a hard line on public-employee unions, strongly opposing the 2013 Bay Area Rapid Transit strike in a district that spans Orinda and Walnut Creek east of the Berkeley Hills to the Tri-Valley—in other words, a district full of voting commuters hard hit by two four-day work stoppages in July and October of last year. Pending a final count of absentee and provisional ballots, Baker leads Democrat and union activist Tim Sbranti in the contest for an open assembly seat. Retired police officer Tom Lackey unseated the Democratic incumbent in the Palmdale area, and Korean-American Young Kim, a former staffer for veteran Republican congressman Ed Royce, ousted incumbent assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, 56 percent to 44 percent, in northern Orange County.

One could argue, however, that the Democrats should never have held some of these seats in the first place. “It’s true Republicans did well, but that’s only because Democrats overreached so far,” said Grant Gillham, a political consultant and former Republican staffer. “You’re living in an alley, eating out of garbage cans and you find half of a Big Mac and you think you’ve hit the jackpot. That’s the situation with Republicans now,” he said, jokingly. He’s got a point, but half a Big Mac is looking pretty good to a desperately hungry party.

This piece was originally published on by City Journal.

Democrats lose super-majority in CA Assembly

Republicans, who have already blocked a Democratic super-majority in the California Senate, have also succeeded in defeating a Democratic super-majority in the Assembly.

The only question remaining: How many seats will Democrats lose in the lower house?

Buoyed by low voter turnout and an effective ground operation, Republicans picked up two Southern California seats and held a slim lead in another Bay Area district, which was considered the top priority of the state’s labor unions. Those pickups, which aren’t expected to change with the counting of late absentee and provisional ballots, would be enough to make up for losing a coastal Ventura County seat currently held by a moderate Republican.

Entering yesterday night, Democrats held 55 seats in the Assembly, compared to 24 seats for Republicans, with one vacant GOP-leaning seat.

From the Bay Area to Los Angeles, the GOP recruited non-traditional candidates to prove the party means business about expanding its base and intends to adapt to the state’s changing demographics. Republican candidates for Assembly posted stronger-than-expected results, with some safe, off-the-radar Democratic seats remaining too-close-to-call for most of Election Night.

Young Kim wins in Orange County

In the 65th Assembly District, Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, D-Fullerton, lost by double digits to Republican challenger Young Kim, a former congressional aide to Rep. Ed Royce. With 100 percent of precincts reporting, the first-generation Korean American immigrant held a commanding 12-point advantage.

A gracious Quirk-Silva conceded the race late Tuesday night and offered her best wishes to Kim. “We fought hard, we worked hard, but tonight is not our victory,” the former mayor of Fullerton posted on Twitter. “I wish my opponent #YoungKim the best in her new position, congratulations!”

More than $5.2 million had been spent on the race by the candidates, political parties and independent expenditure committees. Although Democrats have a 1.7-point advantage in voter registration, the district is considered a “lean Republican” seat, according to the ATC Partisan Index, which ranks districts based on their competitiveness. Kim performed well among absentee voters and benefited from strong support from thousands of Korean-American voters in the district.

In the 36th Assembly District, Asssemblyman Steve Fox, D-Palmdale, another first-term Democrat, lost reelection by a wide margin. With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Republican challenger Tom Lackey held an impressive 23-point lead in a district that Republicans let slip away in 2012 during late absentee and provisional counting.

This time, Republicans dispatched their top ground operatives to the Los Angeles County-based district to make up for a disastrous 2012 campaign. Fox, who won in 2012 by less than 200 votes, was pummeled this election with damaging mailers that reminded voters of his ongoing legal troubles.

The losses by Quirk-Silva and Fox marked the first time in two decades that a Democratic incumbent has lost reelection to the Legislature, according to GOP political consultant Matt Rexroad.

“1994 was the last time a Democrat incumbent lost to a Republican in CA Legislature,” Rexroad, an award-winning political consultant, tweeted. “Two will lose tonight.”

Parties split open targets

The two parties split a pair of open seats at opposite ends of the state.

In the 16th Assembly District, moderate Republican Catharine Baker, an attorney from Pleasanton, defeated Democrat Tim Sbranti, the mayor of Dublin, by four points with all precincts reporting. It is unlikely that Baker would lose the race with the remaining absentee and provisional ballots left to be counted. Her win will give Republicans enough seats to block the Democrats from reaching a super-majority.

Republicans, who traditionally struggle in the Bay Area, dedicated millions of dollars of their limited campaign funds to the competitive race after a brutal June primary. Aided by millions of dollars in independent expenditures from labor unions, Sbranti was ultimately weighed down by his ties to the unions, especially after a vicious primary against moderate Democrat Steve Glazer.

Several hundred miles south, Democrats picked up an open seat in the 44th Assembly District that was vacated by moderate Republican Jeff Gorell. The Ventura County-based seat was an expensive race between Republican Rob McCoy and Democrat Jacqui Irwin. With all precincts reporting, Irwin led McCoy 51.1 percent to 48.9 percent.

Other Democratic incumbents in trouble

At least one other Democratic lawmaker remains in danger of losing reelection.

In the 66th Assembly District, Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, D-Torrance, was losing to Republican challenger David Hadley by more than 2,000 votes. The South Bay district was expected to be competitive, in part, because of low voter turnout.

Asm. Adam Gray

In the 21st Assembly District, Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, defeated a late challenge from Republican Jack Mobley. With all precincts reporting, Gray had 52 percent to Mobley’s 48 percent.

Republicans largely ignored Republican Jack Mobley’s challenge to Gray. A moderate Central Valley Democrat, Gray endeared himself to the state’s business community by occasionally delivering pro-business votes on hot-button issues. But the weak incumbent needed more than $310,000 in support from the party to beat back a last-minute campaign push orchestrated by CA GOP Chairman Jim Brulte.

Big upset: Democrat defeats Democrat

The biggest potential upset of the night was in the 39th Assembly District. Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra, D-Pacoima, was losing to unknown Democratic challenger Patty Lopez by 182 votes. However, with late absentee and provisional ballots left to count, that race remains too close to call.

In two other safe Democratic districts, the results were closer than expected.

In the 57th Assembly District, Assemblyman Ian Calderon, D-Whittier, held a slim lead over Republican Rita Topalian. Calderon, the son of former Assemblyman Charles Calderon, was weighed down by corruption charges filed against his uncle, outgoing state Sen. Ron Calderon.

In the nearby 48th Assembly District, Assemblyman Roger Hernandez, D-West Covina, defeated Republican Joe Gardner by single digits.

This article was originally published at CalWatchdog.com

Assembly 65 swing-seat spending tops $5.2 million


Sharon Quirk SilvaTwo years ago, legislative Democrats pulled off an upset in the heart of conservative Orange County.

“I was a surprise win in the last election,” Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, D-Fullerton, said in a recent interview of her four-point victory over Republican Chris Norby. “And from the moment I won, there has been an effort to take back this seat.”

Quirk-Silva isn’t exactly giving up her seat without a fight.

As of October 18, the first-term Democrat had spent roughly $2.4 million this year to stave off her Republican challenger, Young Kim. To put that number into perspective, the Democratic governor of New Hampshire has spent roughly the same amount on her competitive re-election campaign, according to recent figures from the Associated Press.

young kimKim, a former aide to GOP Congressman Ed Royce, is no pauper either, having spent $1.4 million over the same period.

With its two fundraising powerhouses, the campaign for the 65th Assembly District is on track to be one of the most expensive races — at any level — in the country. Combined spending by both candidates, the two political parties and various independent expenditure committees is on pace to exceed $5.2 million.

Spending on the race had already surpassed the $4.7 million mark on October 18, when the candidates had another half-million dollars at their disposal in cash on hand. Those preliminary figures also don’t account for other late expenditures expected to be spent on this weekend’s get out the vote efforts.

Big labor, big business fund Quirk-Silva’s campaign

Just two years ago, Maplight estimated each member of the California State Assembly, on average, raised $708,371, an average of $970 every day during the 2012 cycle. So, where is all of this additional money coming from?

On Quirk-Silva’s side, the funds can be traced back to both big business and big labor through party committees. Of the $2.65 million raised for her campaign, nearly $2 million has come from either the California Democratic Party or various Democratic central committees throughout the state. Those Democratic committees have accepted large checks from special interest groups that routinely lobby the Legislature, including insurance companies, defense contractors, oil companies and labor unions.

Kim’s campaign, which has raised $1.8 million, owes a third of its support to the California Republican Party, which has relied heavily on political activist and physicist Charles Munger Jr. for its support.

Race to decide Assembly supermajority

Both sides have invested big money in the race that could decide whether Democrats hold a two-thirds supermajority in the lower house, and thus have the votes to raise taxes without any GOP defections. And understandably, tax issues have taken center stage in the race.

In its early endorsement of Kim, the Orange County Register highlighted her position on taxes. “Ms. Kim is the better choice when it comes to protecting taxpayers and restoring the beleaguered California economy,” the paper wrote. “In her bid to serve the residents, she has focused on fixing the education system, making California more business-friendly, improving public safety and dealing with California’s crippling water and infrastructure issues.”

Taxpayer groups have also played an active role in the campaign. Eariler this month, Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, took umbrage with a mail piece from the Quirk-Silva campaign that implied an endorsement.

The first-term Orange County Democrat put her name alongside the taxpayer organization’s name, stating their shared support for Proposition 2, the Rainy Day Budget Stabilization Fund Act. The not-so-subtle goal of the slick mailer was to associate Quirk-Silva with the state’s most trusted taxpayer group, which has endorsed Kim. Coupal described it as “the most unusual attempt at deception we’ve seen this election.”

Neither side forgetting grassroots

The questionable tactics by Quirk-Silva’s campaign demonstrate the challenge that Democrats have in holding the seat. Although Democrats have a 1.7 percentage-point advantage in voter registration, the district is considered a “lean Republican” seat, according to the ATC Partisan Index, which ranks districts based on their competitiveness in the 2014 election.

The GOP’s hope for reclaiming the seat stems from a candidate who delivered a strong showing in the June primary. Kim, a first-generation Korean-American immigrant, earned the highest vote percentage of any GOP legislative challenger in the June 3rd primary, garnering 55 percent of the vote in the Democratic district.

She won voters over with her powerful immigrant success story.

“As many immigrant families did, my parents worked hard and struggled, but they also instilled in me the value of individual responsibility and living within a person’s means,” Kim wrote in a personal narrative featured in the Orange County Register earlier this year.

Kim’s message appears to be resonating with Asian voters, who have returned their absentee ballots at a slightly higher rate from two years ago. According to absentee ballot data from Political Data Inc., Asian absentee voting is up a point from 2012, while early voting by Latinos is down a point. The net gain of two points for Asian voters over Latino voters is expected to benefit Kim.

Political Data Ballot Tracker

Republicans are also optimistic about the party breakdown of returned absentee ballots. Of the 27,372 absentee ballots that have been returned, 45 percent have been from Republicans, an 8 percentage-point advantage over Democrats, according to Political Data’s ballot tracker. That’s an improvement from 2012, when Republicans held a 6 percentage-point edge in absentee ballots.

Enticing volunteers with Korean BBQ

But don’t think that Kim’s advantage in early voting has made her complacent. On Thursday afternoon, Kim’s campaign enticed Republican activists to participate in the final weekend’s “Get Out The Vote” efforts by offering Korean BBQ.

“We need as many volunteers as possible to contact voters and tell them to cast their ballots for Young Kim, and I’m hoping you can join us,” Kim’s campaign wrote in its latest email alert to supporters. “Our office will be open 9a-9p every day between now and Election Day, with 3-hour shifts of canvassing and phone banking.”

This piece was originally published on CalWatchdog.com