Los Angeles Times - Christine Mai-Duc
Early on, California's June 7 primary promised to be an influential factor in the presidential race. Then, Donald Trump became the presumptive Republican presidential nominee and hopes for a competitive primary were dashed.
Now, with polls showing Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in a statistical dead heat, eyes are on the state primary once again.
Still, down-ticket races to which Californians may be paying less attention could make the biggest impact in the state by changing the makeup of the Legislature.
While none of these races will be decided Tuesday, and many likely will evolve into all-out battles once the primary is over, next week’s vote will set the stage for the competitive landscape heading into November. There are 26 seats up for grabs because of term limits or lawmakers leaving office, and 59 other incumbents are defending their seats. Fifteen legislators are running unopposed.
In a year when Trump could have an outsized impact, state Democrats are likely angling to restore their supermajority in both houses by taking advantage of what some expect will be sky-high Democratic turnout next week.
And as California acclimates to more flexible term limits and the top-two primary, interest groups are spending a record amount to influence legislative primaries — more than $24 million to date.
The prospect of a lopsided turnout combined with the added visibility that independent expenditures are lending some races could make for some surprising outcomes, said Darry Sragow, a veteran Democratic strategist and publisher of the California Target Book, which tracks state races.
“All of those things together create an environment in the closing days where outcomes that look likely are clearly not certain,” Sragow said. “You could wind up with some unexpected results.” That could mean two Democrats advancing to November in what have historically been swing districts, or a lesser-known candidate squeaking past perceived front-runners locked in an internecine battle.
Here are a few of the races we’re watching Tuesday.
Assembly District 66 (L.A.’s South Bay)
The candidates: Assemblyman David Hadley (R-Manhattan Beach); and former Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi and retail manager Mike Madrigal, both Democrats
The rundown: Hadley narrowly won this competitive district in 2014, ousting Muratsuchi by a little over 700 votes. During an election year dominated by Trump and in a district that has historically favored moderates, Muratsuchi’s campaign has set up a website called hadleytrump.com with audio and video of Hadley being confronted about whether he will support the Republican presidential front-runner.
The money: Political observers have said Hadley is possibly the most vulnerable Republican in the Legislature, and his $1.4 million in fundraising could be evidence he agrees. Muratsuchi has far less money banked than his Republican opponent, but all signs point to an expensive all-out battle between Democrats and Republicans if these two advance to November as expected. Madrigal has raised no money so far.