Top Takeaways from California’s Primary

Wednesday, June 4, 2014
Golden Gate Bridge
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Last night was primary night in California kicking off the 2014 election season.   For some, races are too still close to call. For others, last night featured little drama. Here are some of the top takeaways.

Californians apparently had little interest in voting.

There was a lot of evidence that turnout would be low; Sac Bee columnist Dan Walters predicted a turnout of 25% or less.   “Or less” hit the mark; as of June 4 at 3 AM, turnout stood at 18%, beating 2010’s 33% and 2008’s 28% for the lowest turnout in a non-presidential primary. Without any compelling statewide races or controversial statewide ballot initiatives mobilizing voters, Californians just shrugged off last night’s election.

The Governor’s race was less dramatic than many expected.

Governor Jerry Brown easily broke 50% cruising into the Top 2. As of 3 AM June 4, Brown had 54.5% of the votes with overall Democratic vote (Brown plus one “also-ran”) equaling 55.4%.

But many expected the real drama to be the Kashkari vs. Donnelly race. Neel Kashkari led Tim Donnelly since early votes were counted and never really fell below a 3 point lead. As of 3 AM June 4, Kashkari carried 19% of the vote compared to 14.8% for Donnelly. Throughout much of the polling, while Donnelly led Kashkari, he appeared to have a ceiling of support around 15% to 17%. Results showed he really couldn’t break through that ceiling. Meanwhile, Kashkari’s investments paid off giving him the momentum he needed, while Donnelly didn’t have the resources to counter.

A quick look at county results show Kashkari’s second place finish is the result of running up his margins against Donnelly in Republican strongholds like San Diego County (Kashkari = 27%, Donnelly = 14%), Orange County (30% vs. 20%), Fresno County (26% vs. 21%), and Placer County (25% vs. 21%), while remaining competitive in Donnelly strongholds like San Bernardino County (24.2% vs. 24.3%), which is essentially Donnelly’s state Assembly district.


The open primary system doesn’t seem to be helping NPP candidates too much.

31 individuals ran as NPP – no party preference, California’s version of an Independent – candidates. As of the morning of June 4, only 3 look to be heading to November. Among the highest profile of the NPP candidates, Secretary of State candidate Dan Schnur and SD 26 candidate Seth Stodder, the results are even more troubling for NPP candidates.

Schnur raised and spent a decent amount for a down-ballot race – raising about $455,000 and spending around $615,000; he also had the endorsement of the Bakersfield Californian, Sacramento Bee, and San Francisco Chronicle’s editorial boards. Yet, he only managed to get 263,000 votes, enough for 8.9% and fourth place. Worse yet, Schnur couldn’t even (as of 3 AM June 4) beat suspended state Senator Leland Yee, who after being indicted for gun running and other federal corruption charges in March ended his Secretary of State campaign. Yee has almost 288,000 votes (9.8%).

Running in SD 26 without a Republican on the ballot, most considered Seth Stodder to be the proxy for Republican voters, which would mean he should have easily made it into the Top 2. However, as of 3 AM June 4, Stodder only has 17.5%, which is good enough for just 3rd place in this crowded primary behind women rights activist Sandra Fluke.

Republicans might get lucky with the State Controller race.

Republicans have an uphill battle to win a statewide office. But the Top 2 may work out in their favor in the State Controller’s race. Everyone expected Fresno Mayor and Republican Ashley Swearengin to walk away with the number 1 spot and the battle to be between Democrats Betty Yee and John Perez for the number 2 spot. But initial results showed an unexpected twist.

Little known Republican David Evans – who raised and spent essentially no money – came out of nowhere to create a four-way tie with Swearengin, Yee, and Perez. For most of the night, Swearengin and Evans held the number 1 and 2 spots, with Yee and Perez close behind them. As of 3 AM June 4, Evans has managed to win 23 counties and is clinging to a three-way tie for the number 2 spot. An explanation: his ballot title is Chief Financial Officer, which sounds very Controller-like.

As it stands, Swearengin appears headed to November with 24.4%. But just 0.2 points or 5,600 votes separate Perez, Yee, and Evans. Perez (in second) and Evans (in third) are separated by just 2,400 votes. If Evans pulls off the impossible, he could shut out two very powerful Democrats from the ballot ensuring a Republican wins at least one statewide office in November.

CTA money could be tied up in November in the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s race.

Despite spending almost $3 million on his behalf, the CTA failed to put incumbent Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Torlakson, over the top to avoid a run-off. As the only statewide non-partisan office, if a candidate wins 50% plus 1 at the primary, he or she wins the office outright. If not, the two top vote getters compete in November.

For most of the night, Torlakson was pushing up against the 50% threshold, but his two competitors kept him below the mark. He will face school reformer and charter school executive Marshall Tuck in November – a battle the CTA was hoping to avoid as it will highlight California’s failing education status quo and put additional scrutiny on the teachers’ unions’ unwillingness to reform education. With his two competitors pulling in 53% of the vote, Torlakson is in for an unusually uphill race for being the incumbent, which means the CTA will have to expend resources on his behalf instead of focusing on legislative races.