California’s down ballot races most contentious in midterm election

So far, more than $1 billion has been poured into California’s races — but with less than three weeks to go before voting closes, candidates for governor and the US Senate haven’t aired a single general election ad touting their campaigns .

What is drawing all the money and attention is the Los Angeles mayoral race, along with sports betting ballot measures and congressional clashes that could determine the balance of power in Congress.

The Los Angeles television market is saturated with publicity about the balloting and race between billionaire developer Rick Caruso and Rep. Karen Bass for leadership of the nation’s second largest city.

It’s already the most expensive contestant contest in the city’s history, raking in $76 million in spending over the past month. Caruso has outperformed Bass by a factor of 10, with almost all of his expenses coming from his own pocket. Then the race was rocked by footage of racist remarks from city leaders.

“It definitely sucks all the air out of the room, and that probably has the effect of freezing everything in place,” said Democratic strategist Paul Mitchell.

mitchell said the leaked conversation by Latino city and labor leaders — which included derogatory comments about a council member’s black child and plans to preserve and expand Latinos’ political power — could go either way.

Recent Charges from other council members, along with the inclusion, may indicate the need for elected officials who are not part of the city’s establishment and favor Caruso, a first-line candidate who has campaigned for his outsider status.

But it could also benefit Bass, who has long worked to build relationships between blacks and Latinos in South Los Angeles.

Bass leaves Congress, creating one of several open house seats. Your district will remain in Democratic hands, but there are several competitive races in Southern California and the Central Valley that could affect President Biden’s ability to pursue his legislative priorities.

If Democrats beat expectations, “it’s the fight for control of the House,” said Raphael J. Sonenshein, executive director of the Edmund G. “Pat” Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State LA

Of the 52 California congressional elections voters will decide in the midterm elections, 10 are in play.

“The Democrats have to do pretty well in these races to have any chance of holding the House,” Sonenshein said. “That’s more interesting to people than anything else on the statewide ballot.”

The ballots landed in the mailboxes of nearly 22 million voters in California last week. The deadline to register to vote in the November 8 election is Monday. Early voting centers begin opening on October 29.

Every statewide seat is on the ballot, but these contests have been eclipsed by the down ballot races.

Abortion rights, gas prices, inflation, public safety and homelessness dominate discourse in convention competitions.

Of the 10 races in the game, the most competitive are in districts represented by Republicans Mike Garcia of Santa Clarita and David Valadao of Hanford, and an open seat in the Central Valley created by the ten-year post-Census re-drawing of congressional maps.

Garcia and Valadao have been moved to districts considered by Democrats to be among their top picks in the nation.

Democrats have a 17.5-point registration advantage over the GOP in the district represented by Valadao, one of 10 congressmen who voted to impeach former President Trump. Rudy Salas, the son of a farm hand and a moderate Democrat MP, is running against Valadao. Both highlight their history of opposing their parties as evidence of their independence and efforts on behalf of farming communities, while accusing each other of misrepresenting their legislative records.

The Central Valley County is very competitive because polls show its constituents are not strictly ideological and are more concerned with economic issues, agriculture and water than with social issues.

Garcia is up against former Rep. Christy Smith for the third time in northern Los Angeles County. Emphasizing his background as a Navy fighter pilot, he blames Democrats for high gas prices and inflation, while Smith portrays Garcia as an extremist out of touch with the district on issues such as abortion.

The once GOP stronghold of law enforcement and aerospace workers has trended less conservative in recent years as it has become more diverse and younger. After the redistribution, Democrats have a 12.5 percentage point voter registration advantage over Republicans.

A Super PAC linked to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco canceled $435,000 in television ads in Los Angeles between Oct. 18 and Oct. 24, Politico first reported last week. That includes advertising in the Garcia-Smith race, although the committee still plans to spend $2.2 million to support Smith in the final weeks of the election. Non-GOP groups have booked nearly $3 million in ads for this race through Nov. 8, according to AdImpact, a firm that tracks political ads.

The independent Democratic Committee’s decision to pull ads while voters ponder ballots could be prompted by internal polls showing weaknesses in a race that should be competitive, political experts say. The money could be better spent on other competitions.

Another theory is that Los Angeles-area voters are so overwhelmed by the covert recording of three Los Angeles City Council members and a powerful union leader making offensive remarks that they are paying no attention to the election and that the funds are better should be saved for ads closer to election day.

Los Angeles County voters will also decide the sheriff’s race, which pits incumbent Alex Villanueva against former Long Beach Police Commissioner Robert Luna. Villanueva has faced criticism for his handling of misconduct allegations, gang-like deputy sheriff’s cliques and other scandals.

The sheer number of Democratic voters in California means the results of the statewide contests for governor, US Senate, attorney general and other top posts are a foregone conclusion. Democrats have held a 23-point lead over Republicans in voter registration since September — 47% of the state’s registered voters are Democrats, 24% are Republicans. Another 23% have no party preference.

Sen. Alex Padilla and Gov. Gavin Newsom are so sure of victory that they’re not on their own. Newsom is primarily focused on a ballot measure to codify abortion rights in the state constitution, while Padilla plans to help Democratic candidates reach out to Latino voters in California, Arizona and Nevada.

GOP strategist Matt Rexroad said that was not surprising, noting Republican gubernatorial nominee Brian Dahle’s lack of campaign finances. He noted that unlike Dahle, recent Republican candidates have been able to fund themselves or raise enough money to compel their Democratic rivals to get involved.

As of his most recent quarterly filing, Newsom had raised more than $20 million towards his re-election since taking office in 2019. By comparison, Dahle had grossed $2.2 million since announcing his candidacy for governor earlier this year.

GOP attorney Mark Meuser faces a similar disadvantage in the Senate race, raising $835,000 through Sept. 30 compared to Padilla’s $11.6 million.

Controller candidate Lanhee Chen, the state GOP’s only hope of winning statewide office for the first time since 2006, could benefit from a lack of interest at the top of the vote.

Republican voters traditionally cast their ballots along party lines and are more likely to vote in midterm elections than Democrats, said Thomas Holyoke, a professor of political science at Cal State Fresno.

Chen, a Stanford lecturer and former political adviser to Sens. Mitt Romney and Marco Rubio during their presidential bids, had raised $4 million by the end of September, according to campaign finance records. Malia Cohen, his Democratic rival who chairs the state Board of Equalization, reported nearly $2.3 million over the same period.

There are also seven electoral measures in front of voters.

Abortion rights are virtually bulletproof in California. But in response to the US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn federal protections for abortion rights, the state’s Democratic-controlled legislature put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to specifically protect abortion rights.

The proposal is seen as an attempt to boost Democrat turnout in November.

“The only thing that drives voters to the polls in state elections is change [Proposition] 1,” said Sonnenschein.

According to polls, more than $400 million has been spent on two gambling schemes that appear to be headed for defeat. Proposition 26 would allow in-person sports betting, while Proposition 27 would allow online sports betting. The barrage of ads about the two measures appear to have confused and angered voters.

“I follow politics pretty closely,” Rexroad said. “That’s what I do for a living, and I don’t even know I understand 26 and 27.”

Julia Wick, a Times contributor, contributed to this report. California’s down ballot races most contentious in midterm election

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