Democrats avert California debacle, gear up for midterms

California's Democratic Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, who won the primary for governor, is frontrunner for the post in November's mid-term elections, when the Democratic Party seeks to make dramatic inroads against President Donald Trump's Republicans
AFP

Washington (AFP) – Democrats avoided disastrous shutouts from key California races following Tuesday’s primaries, keeping them on track for strong showings in the liberal-leaning state that the party hopes will help them retake the US Congress later this year.

Buoyed by opposition to Republican President Donald Trump, Democrats appeared poised to get their candidates onto the ballot in just about every competitive congressional district in California, as the biggest primary night of 2018 also saw voting in seven other states.

The results will shape November’s mid-term elections, when Democrats hope a blue wave can flip control of the House of Representatives and possibly even the Senate from Republican to Democrat and land a hammer blow against Trump’s political agenda.

Democrats in California, the country’s most populous state, are battling to ensure they come out on top in several congressional districts that voted for Hillary Clinton over Trump in the 2016 presidential election.

However, given the state’s unusual election system in which the two top vote-getters move on to the general election regardless of party, Democrats feared they would give Republicans the upper hand in some districts where Democrats had a glut of candidates.

They dodged that bullet, several election observers said Wednesday.

“They’re all going to have Democrats running (in the general election), which is better than they expected,” Michael Cohen, director of the Political Management Program at George Washington University, told AFP.

“The big winner is the Democrats, no doubt.”

The state’s most prominent politician, veteran US Senator Dianne Feinstein, 84, handily won her primary, and will face off against another Democrat in November — the second straight time Republicans have been shut out of a Senate race in California.

The battle to succeed Democratic Governor Jerry Brown will now feature Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, who has run a campaign of anti-Trump “resistance,” and Republican John Cox, a little-known, Trump-backed businessman.

Democrats made history in New Mexico, where Deb Haaland, a member of the Pueblo de Laguna tribe who won her primary in a liberal district, is poised to become the first ever Native American congresswoman.

And in Iowa, where no woman has been elected to the US House of Representatives, voters picked two Democratic women to challenge incumbent Republicans in congressional districts the party has targeted as possible pickup opportunities in November.

– ‘Tighter’ than expected –

Democrats must flip 24 Republican seats to win a House majority.

But the opposition party should by no means start declaring national victory.

“Don’t buy the whole idea that just because Trump is not over 50 percent approval in the country, it’s going to be a blue wave,” Cohen said.

“This is going to be tighter than people expect.”

Trump called Tuesday a great night for Republicans, boasting that his impact was “much bigger than they ever thought possible,” and that political pundits “just don’t get” what is going on outside Washington.

“So much for the big Blue Wave, it may be a big Red Wave,” the president tweeted.

Republicans held their own in some key contests, including securing a spot on the November ballot in a California district that Clinton won by 15 points.

But just getting a candidate in the top-tier governor’s race was a crucial achievement for Republicans.

Failure to do so would have dealt a massive blow to Republican morale and suppressed party turnout.

“I think it’s too early to say it was a ‘good’ night for them, but they certainly got some of the results they were looking for,” said Eric McGhee, a research fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California.

Several Republicans have sought to make their races about local issues, largely ignoring Trump, but Democratic voters were already casting the midterms as a referendum on the  president.

“I will do anything to fight Trump,” Arthur Aguirre, a 76-year-old artist, said at a Hollywood polling station. “He is destroying our democracy.”

But Trump still lords over the party that he has reshaped, and loyalty to the president is key.

A case in point is Alabama Republican congresswoman Martha Roby.

She easily won her 2016 primary. But after distancing herself from Trump over his misogynistic comments, on Tuesday she was embarrassingly forced into a Republican runoff for her seat.

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