The retirement of Senator Barbara Boxer gives the Republicans a unique opportunity to win a safe Democratic seat in November and possibly hold the U.S. Senate regardless of which party controls the White House.
California’s nonpartisan blanket primary laws mandate all candidates from every party run in the same primary and the top two candidates go on to run against each other in November.
Since the law came into effect in 2012 several statehouse and congressional contests saw two people of the same political party square off in the general election, most famously in California’s 31st Congressional district in 2012, when Congressman Gary Miller and fellow Republican State Senator Robert Dutton came in first and second place against four Democratic challengers. The fragmented Democrat candidates allowed Republicans to hold the seat despite it being overwhelmingly Democratic; in 2012 President Obama received 57 percent of the vote in that same district.
California’s 31st district nearly saw this happen again in 2014; Democrat Peter Aguilar outperformed a Republican for second place in the primary by a mere 211 votes. In that case, four Democrats and three Republicans were running, and the Republican vote split enough ways to allow a Democrat on the ballot in November.
One party having full control of a general election ballot has yet to happen statewide though it came close in 2014’s election for California Controller.
This last June, Republican Ashley Swearingen came in the first place on Primary Day for the office of Controller. Her fellow Republican David Evans came in fourth place, missing out on the second spot by just .7 percent, or 28,087 votes out of four million. Had a small percentage of Swearingen’s one million votes gone to Evans in the primary they would have shut the Democrats out in November, and a Republican would now hold the office.
Democrat voters will likely have a very divided primary contest, already announced is Attorney General Kamala Harris with a dozen other Democrats looking to run. California being the diverse state that it is, ethnic politics will play a large role in the Democratic primaries. More than likely at least one Asian American, Hispanic American, and ultra progressive will announce their intention to run, all seeking to court their base.
Several of those high profile Democrats include former Mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa; billionaire hedge fund manager Tom Steyer; Treasurer John Chiang; and Reps. John Garamendi and Linda Sanchez.
Running for Senate in 2014, rather than 2018 will allow people elected to state government such as Chiang the ability to run without having to abandon their current office. California election law prevents someone from running for two offices in the same year. Reps. Garamendi and Sanchez would have to abdicate their House seats to run for Senate.
Other than a more divided Democratic field, Republicans also have another advantage in their more competitive race for the Presidency. With Hillary Clinton, an all but certain lock for the Democratic nomination, their turnout on Primary Day in California will be only triggered by the U.S. Senate race. Republicans, however, will be more motivated to turn out if there is still a viable presidential contest for the Republican nomination.
In 2008, when Romney and McCain were still battling for the nomination more than 2.9 million primary Republicans turned out to the polls. High Republican Primary turnout is the difference between winning and losing.
If only two Republicans run against three or four mainline Democrats who split their vote multiple ways, Republicans could gain the top two spots and block the Democrats out of the November general.
For Republicans who want to hold on to the Senate, anger Democrats, and revive the California Republican Party, the June primary election is everything.