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Essential Politics: California elects Newsom, as divided government comes to D.C.

Essential Politics: California elects Newsom, as divided government comes to D.C.
Essential Politics (Los Angeles Times)

It may not have been the night some Democrats hoped for, but it was good enough to write an important new chapter in the story of President Trump.

And that includes the election of a new Democrat to lead California, one who has been a high-profile critic of Trump from the very beginning of his presidency.

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THE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON: DAVID LAUTER

There’s one big takeaway from Tuesday’s election results: The political divisions that rent the country in 2016 have only grown deeper.

Of the more than 30 districts that Democrats picked up en route to winning control of the House, about 40% were ones that Mitt Romney carried in 2012, but which turned against Donald Trump in 2016. Most of those districts are centered on suburbs and have a large number of college-educated white voters who used to consider themselves Republicans but are now deeply alienated from Trump’s party.

Democrats also picked up a Senate seat in Nevada, a state Hillary Clinton carried. There, they benefited from strong support from Latino voters.

On the other side, Republicans defeated at least three Senate Democrats running in states carried by Trump. In each of those states, Trump supporters turned out in large numbers to evict Democrats, whether they had fought Trump, as Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri often did, or tried to accommodate him, as Sens. Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota preferred. (Republicans were also hoping to pick up a Senate seat in Florida with Rick Scott and in Montana with Matt Rosendale, who were both in close races.)

Trump has made the suburbs great again for Democrats. But he’s also has made the gap between the parties so big that red-state Democrats could no longer find a way to bridge it.

Trump cast the midterm election as a “big victory” early Wednesday, but if it was that, it was costly. Not only did he lose the House, but Democrats also made big gains across the mid-Atlantic and Midwestern industrial states — the places where Trump sealed his victory in 2016. Democrats won races for both Senate and governor in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, unseating Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, whom they had tried three times before to defeat. They got a split decision in Ohio, winning the Senate but losing the governorship. And they took three of the four House seats in Iowa while narrowly losing the governor’s race.

Democrats also flipped several state legislative chambers, giving them a stronger hand in shaping the drawing of district lines after the 2020 Census.

Despite those wins, there was a notable sense of letdown among many Democrats. In part, that stemmed from the Senate losses, which were deeper than many had prepared themselves for (although none were a surprise). The larger cause, however, seemed to be the defeats of three charismatic liberal candidates — Andrew Gillum in Florida, Beto O’Rourke in Texas and Stacey Abrams in Georgia, who has not conceded her race for governor but lags behind her Republican opponent, Brian Kemp.

That’s an odd part of Democratic psychology — the party’s activists tend to fall in love with underdog candidates, forgetting in the heat of the moment that underdogs usually lose.

Overall, however, the Democratic victories were significant and far-reaching. All told, the party appears to have won the total vote for congressional candidates by more than 7 percentage points (the final total won’t be known for weeks). The Democrats lost the overall vote in 2016 by 1 point. An 8-point swing in their direction would be the largest for Democrats since 1948, and one of the largest for either party since the end of World War II, according to Matt Grossmann, a political scientist at Michigan State University, writing for the 538 website. In a highly polarized political era like this, that’s a formidable shift.

Here’s my overall assessment of last night’s vote and what it means for Trump.

NATIONAL LIGHTNING ROUND

-- Seven takeaways from the election, including a historic night for women. (Track their victories here.)

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-- After denouncing her on the campaign trail for more than a month, Trump congratulated House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi for her party’s having retaken control of the House. Still, as Jennifer Haberkorn writes, Pelosi faces a battle for the speaker's gavel.

-- Hundreds of thousands of poor Americans across the country look poised to gain health coverage, as Democrats made gains in key state elections and voters in several Western states appeared to be backing measures to expand Medicaid.

-- Abortion. Marijuana. Voting rights. A look at ballot measures across the country.

-- Democratic Rep. Jared Polis will become Colorado’s first openly gay governor.

-- Many races for California House seats that Democrats hoped to flip are still too close to call. But GOP Rep. Devin Nunes warded off the toughest political challenge he faced in years, claiming victory over Democrat Andrew Janz in California’s 22nd Congressional District.

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-- Meanwhile, Rep. Adam Schiff is really looking forward to investigating Trump.

-- He may be dead, but pimp Dennis Hof won his bid for Nevada state Assembly seat.

THE VIEW FROM SACRAMENTO: JOHN MYERS

You have to go all the way back to 1887 to find a time in California where one Democratic governor was followed by another Democratic governor. Until now, that is.

Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom handily defeated Republican John Cox in the race to succeed Gov. Jerry Brown. The returns as of early Wednesday show the race wasn’t close — Cox looks to have received slightly more than 40% of the votes, the historical mark for most GOP gubernatorial hopefuls over the past two decades.

Newsom, 51, didn’t mention Trump by name Tuesday in his victory speech. He didn’t have to.

“It’s been a long two years but — tonight — America’s biggest state is making America’s biggest statement,” he said. “We are saying — unmistakably and in unison — that it’s time to roll credits on the politics of chaos and cruelty.”

It’s hard to find a California Democrat who’s been more critical of national Republican politics than the governor-elect. Nor has there been one who has more completely embraced the leftward march of the state’s dominant party. One early question is whether Newsom sees Tuesday’s results as the result of particular events in the here and now — or a sign of a dramatic shift of the California electorate.

Unsuccessful, though, was another Trump antagonist: Kevin de León, who lost his long-shot bid to unseat Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

Democrats also did quite well in most other statewide races, from attorney general to state treasurer. We’ll keep watching the returns in the race for insurance commissioner, with a narrow lead by Republican-turned-independent Steve Poizner over Democrat Ricardo Lara. And then there’s the schools chief race that attracted huge spending from teachers unions and charter school backers, where Marshall Tuck maintains a lead over Tony Thurmond.

California voters offered a mixed review of the 11 propositions on the statewide ballot — resoundingly saying no to looser rent control as envisioned by Proposition 10 and lower gas taxes as promised by Proposition 6. Both of those outcomes could mark major turning points in long-running debates over the state’s housing crisis and the electorate’s feeling about taxes and transportation woes.

ELECTION DAY ESSENTIALS

-- Live results from the midterm election.

-- As Cox conceded defeat in the California governor’s race Tuesday night, he told supporters in San Diego that he predicts a resurgence of the Republican Party in the state and said he’s “not going anywhere.”

-- In what could be a stunning upset, retired Sheriff’s Lt. Alex Villanueva took a narrow lead over Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell early Wednesday.

-- With ballots from just a few precincts left to count, San Francisco voters appeared to give handy approval to Proposition C, a ballot measure that will tax corporate businesses to fund services for the homeless.

-- In a country with a heightened sense of anxiety over the sanctity of elections, officials were thankful when election day in Los Angeles provided voters with some frustrations rather than keeping people from voting in some capacity.

-- The flip side: At the Luxe Hotel, the official polling place for residents living in and around the Brentwood and Bel-Air areas, voters were treated to valet parking, finger sandwiches and a soothing tea dubbed "The Midterm Elixir."

-- Musician Moby jammed in a few pop-up concerts in Orange County on election day to support Democratic candidates.

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