There are three main takeaways from California’s elections this week.
First, the level and extent of voter apathy should send a shudder through all levels of the political establishment. Voter turnout was shockingly low. Despite the fact that all 22 million registered voters in the state were sent mail-in ballots weeks prior to Election Day, only 18% of ballots had been returned by Election Day.
Voters’ fury at high inflation and, in particular, high gasoline prices, as well as the sense of lingering anxiety unleashed by the pandemic, didn’t necessarily translate to a tsunami against California’s Democratic state leadership; but it did result in a mass abstention from an election that generated precious little of the political passion and engagement that became something of a routine during former President Donald Trump’s years.
With voter turnout dropping on Election Day, The percentage of voters participating in the election was hovering around 20% 25 percentThis was the lowest participation rate since 2014’s primary elections. Contrast that with June primary elections two years agoNearly half of all registered voters voted in this election.
Second, the majority of voters stayed with the marquee-name Democrats. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Attorney General Rob Bonta and U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla all cruised to large primary wins, and all head into November’s election with what ought to be insurmountable leads in the opinion polls. Despite the sense of angst throughout the electorate, this didn’t translate to an automatic tilt rightward across the board. In other words, whatever the hype in the media in the next few days, California as a whole isn’t about to shift red.
In fact, the incumbent Republican in the state’s GOP congressional seat fell in at least one instance. The 41st District, Rep. Ken Calvert appears to have won roughly 43 percent of the voteHe was eight points ahead of his nearest Democratic rival, but well behind the total Democratic voter, which was roughly 50 percent. These numbers give Democrats more hope than just a fighting chance to win the seat in November.
In the meantime, 22nd DistrictThe current representative of this state is Republican David Valadao. He was one of a few GOP congressmen who voted to impeach Trump following the January 6 insurrection. GOP primary voters seem to have been content to sit on their hands. With counting still underway, it’s entirely possible that Valadao, the incumbent, will end up with less than a quarter of the total vote.
The third takeaway, however, is the one that has the greatest impact on the national stage. In a recall vote Conservative GOP billionaires flood us with cashMisinformation about crime data in the Bay Area is also a problem San Francisco voters decisively voted to recall progressive District Attorney Chesa Boudin.
On one hand, the vote can be seen as a backlash against progressives’ efforts to decrease mass incarceration and instead address the root causes that lead people to commit crimes. Polls suggested that Boudin would lose for weeks. Voters cited their support for Boudin. discomfort with homeless encampmentsIn-the-open drug use, and crime rates are the top issues in the run-up to the election.
However, the outcome must be understood within the context of Republican billionaires spend massive amounts on dark money PACsRon Conway and William Oberndorf are two examples of people who have helped to finance a campaign to spread stories about rising crime rates in San Francisco.
However, in real life, the Washington Post offers a different snapshot of crime in the city: “Like most big U.S. cities, San Francisco has seen a rise in homicides during the pandemic, although rates remain far below those of past decades, and other cities have experienced bigger per capita jumps. Overall violent crime here remains at some of the lowest levels it has been in four decades.” The Post goes on to note that property crime is in the process of “declining gradually to pre-covid levels” but that residential burglaries currently remain higher than pre-pandemic levels.
In the face of this billionaire-bankrolled recall effort, Boudin — who had pushed forward efforts related to jail-diversion, to further the rehabilitation of people with criminal convictions, and to address the deeper causes that trigger young people to engage in crime — lost by an even larger margin than was expected. The outgoing DA in many ways got the short end of the stick, as a critical mass of voters blamed him, and his progressive prosecutor priorities, for problems like the rampant and highly visible overdose crisis — in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, more San Franciscans died of overdoes than of COVID — that began festering decades before he ran for office.
So large was the “yes” vote that the Associated PressWithin half an hour of the polls closing, the results were called. Boudin will now have to step down, and the city’s mayor, London Breed, who has been urging the DA’s office to take a tougher, more pro-policing stance, will be tasked with appointing his replacement.
Given the large number of progressive DAs who have been elected around the country in the past few years — from Philadelphia’s Larry Krasner to Los Angeles’s George Gascon — and who have struggled mightily with messaging in recent months, Boudin’s recall in one of the country’s most liberal cities could have huge ramifications, raising questions about whether voters are wavering in their support for exploring alternatives to the violent, racist and stunningly expensive, lock-‘em-up-and-throw-away-the-key strategies of broken-windows policing and the “war on drugs.”
It’s clear that voters have grown increasingly concerned about homelessness, addiction, mental illness and street crime, so any progressive efforts at decarceration need to explicitly speak to those issues. Boudin was unable to address his constituents in this manner.
In the end, tens of thousands of liberal San Franciscans — people who wouldn’t in a million years have voted for Trump, and wouldn’t in a million years vote for a Republican for statewide office in California — were persuaded by a dark money-funded recall effort emphasizing concerns about street conditions and public safety to upend the apple cart and ditch Boudin.
It’s important to note, however, that voters up and down the state did not follow suit in giving conservative law-and-order voices a carte blanche: In the high profile race for Sacramento County sheriff, for example, the more liberal candidate, Jim CooperHe defeated Scott Jones, his conservative rival in a race to replace Trumpite-outgoing sheriff.
However, California voters’ concerns about highly visible issues of homelessness, addiction and mental illness, as well as concerns about crime, also played out in important ways in the Los Angeles’s mayor’s race. In LA’s case, it translated into a large vote against progressive Rep. Karen Bass, who went into the election as far-and-away the odds-on favorite to be the city’s next mayor, but who ended up losing ground to mall developer Rick Caruso.
Caruso is picked up endorsementsHe received support from a host of business leaders, including Elon Tesla. His campaign closed hard and his support steadily improved over the course of the campaign’s final weeks. He gained support from all classes and ethnicities by convincing voters that his campaign was serious about ending the homelessness crisis that became visible in the rise of encampments in high-end neighborhoods like Venice Beach.
It looks like the wealthy developer has won the lottery. eked out a slight win over Bass, and, in so doing, put himself in poll position to be the next mayor of the country’s second-largest city. If that does indeed go down, it would be a huge, and catastrophic, reversal in fortune for a Democratic Party that has, since at least Barack Obama’s election in 2008, recast itself as the party of the U.S.’s great metropolises.