California’s political colors unlikely to shift much if red wave sweeps across U.S. in November

 The Colorado River flows through the Mojave desert on the California-Arizona border.
Will the expected Republican “red wave” in the November election leap west over the Colorado River, which divides lower California from Arizona? All signs point to no, according to a new poll.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

After taking a one-week hiatus to mourn the departure of Los Angeles Times Sacramento bureau chief John Myers, the California Politics Newsletter’s founding father, we’re back!

For at least the next few weeks, reporters in The Times’ Sacramento bureau will take turns trying to live up to Myers’ wisdom and wit. So here we go, into the abyss:

First, we’d like to quickly note the monumental Supreme Court decision this morning on Roe vs. Wade. Here’s the story from our colleague David Savage and another from reporter Melody Gutierrez. We will have plenty more coming up about the decision through California’s lens.


The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision Friday to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision and allow states to outlaw abortion may be sending shock waves across the nation, but the ruling won’t have any direct impact on abortion rights in California.

In fact, the Legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom are working to expand access to abortion in California, both for residents and people from out-of-state. Last week, state lawmakers sent the governor a budget that included $20 million to support a state Abortion Support Fund that will provide money for airfare, lodging or gas money to pregnant individuals, including those seeking care from out of state.

Under California law, anyone of reproductive age has “the fundamental right to choose to bear a child or to choose and to obtain an abortion” — including minors.

State lawmakers this month are expected to vote to place a measure on the November ballot that would explicitly enshrine that right in the state constitution, even though the California Supreme Court already has ruled that the state’s constitutional right to privacy protects the right to have an abortion.

Regardless, abortion-rights advocates in the state will be in high gear.

“I want to be crystal clear: Abortion remains legal here in California and we are working to ensure that people—regardless of where they come from — can access abortion services with as much support and as few barriers as possible,” Jodi Hicks, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, said after the decision. “To people across the country living in a state hostile to abortion: California is here for you. We will not turn people away, and we will find a way to support you so that you can get the care you need.”


And now, in less earth shattering political news:

All the votes from California’s June primary aren’t even counted yet and Republicans already are in trouble. A new poll by the Yankelovich Center for Social Science Research at UC San Diego shows that all the Democrats running for statewide office in California carry leads over their Republican opponents going into the November election.

That shouldn’t be too much of a shocker to anyone who follows California politics. The last time a Republican won a statewide race was way back in 2006, courtesy of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner.

Still, the prospects for a GOP groundswell in the 2022 midterm elections have Republicans nationwide giddy about their chances of taking control of Congress and putting the brakes on President Biden’s political agenda, as well as making gains in state offices across the nation. Will that “red wave” breach California’s eastern border in November? Not likely, said political scientist Thad Kousser, co-director of the UC San Diego center.

Not only are the statewide Democratic candidates favored, most by a large margin, but California could possibly be one of the few bright spots for Democrats in the November congressional elections — or at least the state where they hold steady.

Expected turnout is one of the primary reasons why the picture looks so rosy for Democrats, according to Kousser. Among the registered voters surveyed, 65.7% said they plan to vote in November. Turnout in the June primary was a lethargic 32% statewide, according to the latest state elections figures.

In California, a robust voter turnout tends to favor Democratic candidates, since Democratic voters outnumber Republicans almost 2 to 1.

Two Democrats enter, one insurance commissioner leaves

The most intriguing statewide race may have no Republican on the ballot at all.

As the last votes continue to be counted, Democratic Assemblyman Marc Levine holds a slim lead over Republican Robert Howell, a cybersecurity equipment manufacturer, for the honor of challenging Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara in November. In California’s top-two primary system, the two candidates who receive the most votes advance to the general election, regardless of their political party. Lara topped the field in the June election.

The state insurance commissioner wields significant power over home, auto and other insurance policies purchased by millions of Californians, but the campaigns for the post are usually about as interesting as a 17-page homeowners policy. This time around, Levine is running a bare-knuckles campaign, accusing Lara of being too cozy with the insurance companies he regulates, and the race is expected to turn even more heated.

According to the UC San Diego poll of registered voters, 53.5% of those surveyed supported Lara, compared with 42.5% backing Levine. In a bruising campaign, especially between two Democrats, margins like that can be fragile. It also would be a much tighter race than if Lara faced Howell. Voters favor Lara over the Republican by almost 2 to 1.

The greatest hope for the Republicans to break the party’s losing streak in statewide races is probably Lanhee Chen, a public policy expert who teaches at Stanford University and is running for state controller. Chen topped the field of candidates in the primary, receiving 37% of the vote. In the UC San Diego poll, however, he trails the Democrat he’ll be up against in November, California State Board of Equalization Member Malia Cohen, who leads him by just over 10 percentage points.

Koussar said the gap between Chen and Cohen reflects the partisan divide in the California electorate, and for Chen to overcome that he must convince Democratic voters to abandon their party allegiance and attract support from left-leaning independents.

The poll found voters favored Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom over Republican state Sen. Brian Dahle by just shy of 19 percentage points. U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla had an almost identical lead over Republican challenger Mark Meuser. Interestingly, the poll found that the tightest race — at least at the moment — was for lieutenant governor. The poll found that Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis was supported by 51.8% of voters, compared with 46% who favored Republican Angela Underwood Jacobs, the deputy mayor of Lancaster.

Crime and politics

Sidestepping the litany of political hot takes about the recent recall of San Francisco’s progressive district attorney, Chesa Boudin, his removal from office at the very least showed that crime in California is on the minds of voters. Pre-primary polls reflected that as well, and there’s no indication those concerns will dissipate before November.

Crime will certainly be the premier issue in the race for California attorney general, at least if the Republican challenger has anything to do with it. As of this week’s vote count, former Assistant U.S. Atty. Gen. Nathan Hochman, who was endorsed by the California Republican Party, appears likely to face off against Democratic Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta in November. Hochman declared victory on Thursday, though nothing is official yet.

Leading up to the primary, Bonta’s supporters ran radio ads to elevate the candidacy of Eric Early, a Los Angeles attorney running a campaign that hewed toward the hard right. That’s somewhat of a tell, indicating the Bonta’s backers thought Early would be easier to beat in the general election.

The UC San Diego poll, however, showed that California voters favored Bonta over both Hochman and Early by a margin of roughly 30 percentage points — an enormous gap.

The poll also found when half of those surveyed were shown tables of California’s short-term crime trends from the state Department of Justice, Bonta’s approval rating as attorney general hovered around 51%. When the other half were shown data on California’s short-term and long-term crime trends, which have plummeted since 1990, Bonta’s approval rating jumped to 70%.

In the abstract, that could be a danger sign for Bonta because news coverage usually focuses on the crime happening now and because crime began to rise after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Of course, campaigns don’t exist in the abstract. California voters will be asked to choose between Bonta, a progressive with a left-leaning record on criminal justice issues, and likely Hochman, who is splitting the lanes between the tough-on-crime policies of decades past and more modern-day criminal justice reform ideas.

Expect both to do their best to undercut the other as a radical, with Bonta having the advantage of incumbency and campaign money and Hochman seizing on voter concerns about the state’s rise in violent crime and their sense of lawlessness.

Newsom strolls into the lions den

Pre-primary opinions polls also showed the rise in violent crime, and the well-televised smash-and-grab robberies up and down the state, were becoming a potential political problem for Newsom. A UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll found that just over half of voters surveyed said Newsom is doing a poor job on crime and public safety, up 16 percentage points from 2020.

Amid that backdrop, Newsom and Bonta have both tried to reframe this issue to focus on gun violence. The Democrats argued that gun rights advocates and gunmakers were at the root of the increase in violent crime nationwide because of the proliferation of firearms across the country.

After his dominant showing in the gubernatorial primary, Newsom continued to go on the offensive — in a counterintuitive way. Last week, Newsom joined Truth Social, Donald Trump’s new social media platform and a haven for loyalists of the former president.

“I know we’re all on this platform in search for the truth. But the truth is I’ve not been able to find a simple explanation for the fact that we have a red state murder problem,” Newsom said in his first post. “Eight of the top 10 states with the highest murder rates happen to be red states. So the question is simple. What are the laws? And policies in those states that are leading to such carnage?”

Most of the responses on the site were not kind. But it’s doubtful he went there seeking affirmation.

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California politics lightning round

— California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta on Thursday pledged to work with the governor and lawmakers to pass new gun control legislation “to keep Californians safe” in response to a Supreme Court ruling that weakens requirements to obtain a license to carry a concealed weapon in the state.

— California’s gun laws are widely viewed as some of the strictest in the country by advocates on both sides of the gun control debate; the Supreme Court ruling puts a number of those laws on shaky constitutional ground.

— Roughly 150,000 lower- and middle-income Californians could see their healthcare premiums spike if Congress does not extend federal subsidies for people covered by programs created under the Affordable Care Act. The federal subsidies passed as part of a President Biden’s temporary pandemic relief package.

— If the June primary taught Californians anything, it’s not to make snap judgements on tight races on election night in this new political era where vote-by-mail rules the day. That was certainly the case in the race for Los Angeles mayor. Billionaire developer Rick Caruso, who ran on a platform of expanding the city’s police force and clearing homeless encampments, took the early lead, only to be overtaken by Rep. Karen Bass.

— Why does California provide school buses to a smaller share of its public school students than any other state, fewer than 9% of students, compared with 33% nationwide? Because state officials froze school transportation funding levels more than 40 years ago. Students are suffering as a result, especially in rural counties.

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