There is no doubt that Tuesday’s election was a resounding national win for the Republican Party–picking up at least seven seats (and possibly more) to take the majority in the U.S. Senate, picking up at least twelve new House seats, and installing three new GOP Governors. That said, here in California, the evening was a disappointing one for the local Republican Party, from a statewide perspective.
While in a couple of statewide races, for Secretary of State and Controller, their candidates came tantalizingly close to winning, it appears that once again Democrats will have swept every statewide office. Governor Jerry Brown was handily re-elected to a historic fourth term in the state’s top elective office.
Much attention was paid to the race for State Superintendent of Public Instruction, where incumbent Tom Torlakson, who is a close ally of the powerful California Teachers Association (CTA), fended off a well-funded challenge from education reformer Marshall Tuck.
Despite the painful reminder that even in a good year for Republicans, winning statewide office is elusive, Republicans did manage to achieve one very important achievement: they picked up enough state legislative seats to block Democrat supermajorities both in the State Senate and the State Assembly. That achievement is not only important for policy reasons, but also because it was more or less generally accepted that if the GOP couldn’t make those gains in this non-presidential year that they may as well hang it up in blue California.
With the GOP gaining a new safe seat in the State Senate, Senator Andy Vidak being re-elected in the Central Valley in a very difficult seat, and Orange County Supervisor winning an Orange County Senate seat thought to be competitive in a landslide, Republicans in the upper chamber will now number 14, holding Democrats’ majority power in check. On the Assembly side, Republicans appear to have also picked up at least a net of two seats there as well, also pushing their numbers above the critical third. Much of the credit for Republican gains in the legislature is owed to the strategic prowess of State GOP Chairman Jim Brulte, who was able to exceed expected fundraising goals, and widen the field of play, stretching Democrat resources thin.
The big surprise win of the night for the GOP appears to be the unexpected victory of dairy farmer Johnny Tacherra over incumbent Congressman Jim Costa in the Central Valley’s 16th congressional district. This race was not targeted at all by the national GOP. Republicans appear likely to have picked up two other swing district seats as well–with former Congressman Doug Ose poised to defeat freshman Ami Beri the Sacramento Area, and former San Diego City Councilman Carl DeMaio with a lead over freshman Rep. Scott Peters in San Diego. Another race between Democrat incumbent Julia Browney and challenger Assemblyman Jeff Gorell remains too close to call.
In two intra-party battles, longtime incumbent Democrat Mike Honda in the Silicon Valley area defeated a spirited challenge from Ro Khanna, and in the northern part of Los Angeles County, conservative Steve Knight is poised to defeat the more moderate Tony Strickland. In the Inland Empire, Democrat freshman Raul Ruiz beat back a challenge from Assemblyman Brian Nestande.
On California’s six low-profile statewide ballot measures, the two for which Gov. Brown campaigned, the water bond and the rainy day fund reserve (#1 and #2, respectively), both passed by strong margins. Measures supported by trial lawyers to expand the role of the Insurance Commissioner into healthcare, and to lower the limits on medical malpractice lawsuits, were both soundly defeated. A controversial measure to reduce the sentences on a group of non-violent felonies passed–and the ratification of an Indian gaming compact with a small Central Valley tribe was rejected.
Rounding out election coverage, Republicans scored a big with with the election of Chris Cate to the San Diego City Council. Mayor Kevin Faulconer put a lot of capital behind Cate, whose election means that Faulconer can now sustain vetoes he makes. Republicans also defeated Larry Agran, the long-time progressive Democrat political leader and councilmember in Irvine, in Orange County.