May 31, 2018 at 8:33 am PST | by Karen Ocamb
Vote as if your life depends on it – because it might

Gubernatorial candidate Gavin Newsom is hoping for a depressed Republican voter turnout in November. (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

MSNBC’s Brian Williams opened his late night news show on May 29 with a staccato: “Day 495 in the Trump administration,” immediately moving on to identify the top Donald Trump news stories of the day. But the opening lingered like an old familiar lyric. It sounded reminiscent of the opening Nightline’s Ted Koppel made famous counting down the days during the Iran Hostage Crisis in 1979. “America Held Hostage: Day 434.”

Was MSNBC hinting that America is being held hostage by Donald Trump?

Trump has been president since Jan. 19 and his greatest achievement so far has been boosting employment for fact-checkers. On May 1, the Washington Post reported that in the 466 days he had held office, Trump made 3,001 false or misleading claims—“That’s an average of nearly 6.5 claims a day.” Each lie led to a rabbit hole, with often humorous results. In Nashville, Tennessee May 29, ostensibly to fluff up the candidacy of GOP Senate candidate Rep. Marsha Blackburn, Trump spent an hour onstage trumpeting old campaign themes, such as Mexico paying for the border wall. “They’re going to pay for the wall and they’re going to enjoy it,” Trump said.

To which Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto replied in a tweet: “President @realDonaldTrump: NO. Mexico will NEVER pay for a wall. Not now, not ever. Sincerely, Mexico (all of us).”

It’s that kind of public international embarrassment—and so much more not even connected to “collusion” or obstruction of justice in the Mueller Russian investigation—that has so many Democrats champing at the bit to win back the House and Senate in the 2018 elections. Democrats are waxing their boards to ride a #BigBlueWave.

But waves can peter out, polls can be wrong, messages can deflate, the significance of issues can be overlooked—and voters’ expectations can be so high, some may just stay home.

The 2018 midterms are a different matter, however. Voters in California and the country are faced with an existential question that could determine the survival of compassion and American democracy as it has been understood since the Declaration of Independence. Right now, American tolerance for Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy at the Mexican border where ICE agents are literally tearing screaming babies from mothers desperately seeking refuge from the violence in their home country suggests a pervasive Stockholm syndrome where people once of good character turn a blind eye to consequences of cultish authoritarianism.

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold….The ceremony of innocence is drowned;/ The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity,” wrote William Butler Yeats in “The Second Coming,” as if eyeing today.  As if real lives are on the line

Republicans in California, in particular, are struggling with a political identity crisis. According to a report released May 29 by Political Data Inc., Republicans in the state have fallen behind “No Preference” by about 73,000 of the state’s 19 million registered voters.

“At the close of regular registration, 15 days before the June primary, there were 4,844,803 no-party-preference voters, according to Political Data Inc., compared with 4,771,984 Republicans. Both make up about a quarter of the California electorate, trailing 8,436,493 registered Democrats, about 44.4 percent,” reported the Sacramento Bee.

“Republicans finally succumb to independents in California – they now trail by 76,000 – Democrats hold steady, with slight increase in registration. #BigBlueWave,” tweeted out California Democratic Party Chair @EricBauman.

But nothing is ever easy with Democrats. Gubernatorial frontrunner Lt Gov. Gavin Newsom has been pitching Trump supporter, Republican businessman John Cox as his preference to win the second spot in June 5 top-two Primary to ensure himself a likely easy victory in November.

“Newsom has frustrated Democrats who believe the party would be more likely to beat the vulnerable GOP House members if Republicans are shut out of the governor’s race. That, the critics argue, would depress GOP turnout, partly because Republicans are already virtually certain to be excluded from the U.S. Senate race,” Ron Brownstein writes for CNN. 

Many Republicans agree that GOP turnout could be devastating without a top of the ticket candidate. Newsom doesn’t believe Cox would be harmful, with his spokesperson, Nathan Click, telling Brownstein that a Newsom versus Antonio Villaraigosa match would be so costly, it would take donor money away from down-ticket candidates and would also likely exacerbate internal party divisions.  Besides, Click says, “Regardless of what’s at the top of the ticket, Donald Trump and the national dynamics are going to define what happens in those House races.”

Maybe. But low GOP voter turnout in the seven key Republican seats Democrats hope to flip are essential forDemocrats to win the 23 congressional seats they need in November. Continued control of Congress by Republicans means for erratic cruel policies; control by Democrats at least puts a check on Trump’s nuclear trigger finger.

Everything depends on who turns out to vote in both the June 5 primary and again in November. Here are key congressional elections to watch.

GOP incumbent Rep. Jeff Denham in Congressional District (CD) 10 in the Central Valley. An Air Force veteran seeking a fourth term, he’s running against Michael Eggman, a farmer trying to unseat Denham for the third time. He’s endorsed by Equality California but there was a “no Consensus from the California Democratic Party (CDP). Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball has that as a toss-up, as does Charlie Cook’s The Cook Report.  In 2016, Denham beat Eggman with 51.7 percent of the vote, but Hillary Clinton won the district with 48 percent. The Latino vote could determine victory.

GOP incumbent Rep. David Valadao, CD 21, Central Valley. He’s a rancher running against businessman T.J. Cox, endorsed by CDP and EQCA. Cook has this Lean Republican; Saboto has Valadao as Likely Republican. Clinton beat Trump in this district with 55 percent.

GOP incumbent Rep. Steve Knight, CD 25, LA County. This is an election that matters to LGBT people since Knight is the son of infamous anti-gay hater Pete Knight. Lawyer Bryan Caforio is going for a second try after Knight beat him with 53 percent of the vote in 2016. CDP has No Consensus in this primary, possibly because of the strong grassroots pull for bisexual Katie Hill, who heads a non-profit focused on homelessness. Cook has this as a toss up, as does Sabato. Clinton won the district with 50 percent of the vote.

Open CD 39, Orange County with the retirement of longtime Republican Ed Royce. This is a free-for-all that Democrats are concerned might be a jungle primary victory for two Republicans with a bunch of Democrats competing. EQCA and CDP have no endorsement between wealthy philanthropist and pediatrician Mai Khanh Tran. Sabato calls it a Toss up, as does Cook.  Clinton won with 51 percent of the vote.

GOP incumbent Rep. Mimi Walters, CD 45 Orange County. Walters is a Trump supporter so this could be a test of how Trump plays in the field. But this is a real slugfest between Democrats. Both EQCA and CDP want UC Irvine law professor Dave Min, who better fits an Asian voting bloc in the district. But consumer lawyer Katie Porter, also a professor at UC Irvine, has the backing of popular Sens. Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren. Sabato has it as Leans Republican, as does Cook. Clinton won here with 49.8 percent.

GOP incumbent Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, CD 48, Orange County. Rohrabacher is a Russian and Julian Assange-lover, an ardent Trump backer and a serious anti-LGBT official. He has a primary challenger, Scott Baugh, and two Democrats, businessman Harley Rouda, backed by EQCA and biomedical researcher Hans Keirstead, backed by CDP. Cook has this as a toss up, as does Sabato. Clinton won with 48 percent. Baugh is a well-known Republican and by not coming to a consensus on one candidate, this could be a top-two Republican outcome.

Open CD 49, Orange and San Diego Counties, with retirement of Rep. Darrell Issa. This is another free-for-all with Democrats fielding a bunch of candidates. EQCA has endorsed former Clinton foreign policy adviser Sara Jacobs; the CDP has no consensus. Cook has it as a Toss up, Sabato has it Lean Democrat. Clinton win with 50.7 percent.

GOP incumbent Rep. Duncan Hunter, CD 50, San Diego County. Hunter is facing an investigation for improper use of campaign funds and the San Diego Union-Tribune even editorialized “50th District: Anyone but Duncan Hunter.” This anti-LGBT son of another anti-LGBT hater, his father Duncan Hunter, led the way on the transgender military ban in Congress. He has two Democratic challengers, former Navy Seal Josh Butner and former Obama White House fellow, Ammar Campa-Naijar. This is big Trump country, he won by 54.6 percent but Hunter is seriously disliked. Cook has it as Likely Republican.

Interestingly, while Trump errand boy Rep. Devin Nunes, CD 22, is considered Likely Republican, some in his very red district are getting anxious about Trump’s trade policies and how they are impacting their crop sales. If all politics is local, Nunes may need Trump to stump for him—or change his China policy until after November.

Voter turnout in the June 5 primary will help determine whether Californians fall sway to the Stockholm Syndrome or resist. 

LA County has teamed with Uber and Lyft to get voters to their polling precincts. Go to lavote.net.

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