It didn’t even look like a blue wave on election night. Now it’s looking like a potential tsunami, at least in California.
As late votes poured in, largely from mailed ballots, the Democrats’ tally rose and swept away Republicans.
What happened in the final days of the election season to generate energy for a big blue wave? President Trump kept blowing hot air. That’s the educated guess of many political pros.
Democratic congressional candidates also smartly campaigned on healthcare. They pledged to preserve the ban on insurance companies denying coverage because of preexisting medical conditions, and to fight against lifetime limits.
It was a winning issue among Democratic voters, whether poor or middle class. And, importantly, it showed Democratic candidates being for something, rather than just trashing Trump.
As a turnout prod, “Trump was the big motivator — and so was healthcare,” says Bob Shrum, a longtime Democratic strategist who is director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC.
Paul Mitchell, vice president of Political Data Inc., says: “The most striking thing to me was how deeply the blue wave cut into California and took out Republicans in some of the deepest Republican districts. Particularly in a gubernatorial election.”
Gubernatorial elections always attract fewer voters than presidential contests, so they’re less favorable to down-ballot Democrats who fare best when turnouts are high.
But this election has turned out to be a rarity.
A Democratic blue wave had been predicted for months. But on election night all anyone saw was a ripple. Then it slowly began to change.
Late votes started being counted and Republican leads eroded.
“Historically, the later vote tends to favor Democrats,” Shrum points out.
That’s not just in California, but everywhere. It makes sense.
Republicans have a higher propensity for voting. They often vote early by mail, and those ballots are counted right away. The numbers are released soon after the polls close on election night, giving GOP candidates an immediate boost. Democratic voters, however, generally need more prodding and often don’t decide to cast a ballot until late.
But Trump seemed to be ignorant of this elementary fact Monday when he alleged voter fraud, and particularly focused on Florida.
“Large numbers of new ballots showed up out of nowhere and many ballots are missing or forged,” the president tweeted. He urged Florida to disregard all ballots counted after election night. Florida election officials, led by a Republican, quickly replied that Trump was all wet.
As of Wednesday, California election officials had counted about 9.4 million ballots and still had 3.1 million to process, according to the Secretary of State’s office. Of the uncounted ballots, 1.9 million had been mailed.
The state had sent voters a record 13.4 million mail ballots. They’re slower to count because signatures have to be checked against those on file. So the more mail ballots there are, the slower the counting. The vote-counting deadline is Dec. 7.
Democrats seemed to have flipped at least four Republican U.S. House seats, as of Wednesday. And two more were in doubt. That would mean Democrats holding at least 43 of California’s 53 seats. And for 26 years, they have held both of the state’s two U.S. Senate seats.
In the Legislature, Democrats appear to have picked up enough seats to regain supermajorities in each house. That’s sufficient to pass tax increases without Republican votes.
But that’s just theoretical. Any Democrat who beats a Republican in a competitive district can’t vote for a tax increase without risking being fired in the next election.
In the state Senate, Democrats picked up two Republican seats in the San Joaquin Valley — two Latinas beating two white men. That will mean a 28-to-12 Democratic dominance over Republicans. A supermajority is 27.
In the Assembly, Democrats have picked up at least two seats for a total of 57, leaving Republicans with no more than 23. But four races still haven’t been called and Democrats could wind up with around 60. A supermajority is 54.
Trump’s stumping around the country in late October bellowing to his voter base about an allegedly dangerous caravan of asylum-seeking migrants from Central America is generally credited with stirring up Latino voters in California.
But no one yet knows how big the turnout was among Latinos or young voters, or anyone. It may take another month.
“A good Latino turnout is the only way to explain two Latino female candidates beating two Republican white males in the Central Valley,” asserts Tony Quinn, a former Republican advisor on gerrymandering and now editor of the nonpartisan California Target Book, which handicaps congressional and legislative races.
Darry Sragow, a longtime Democratic strategist who publishes the Target Book, says: “My initial presumption is Trump went over the top too many times. He outdid himself. Things he was doing and saying in the closing days of the campaign led a lot of Democratic voters to conclude they just couldn’t stand it anymore.
“He was putting his finger in the eye of all manner of voters.”
For Republican consultant Rob Stutzman, the startling thing was that Democrats made their gains in a non-presidential election.
“That means the bottom could really fall out on Republicans in two years, especially if Trump is the nominee,” Stutzman says.