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My Turn - California the key primary

Primaries were held in eight states last Tuesday: Alabama, California, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, NewJersey, New Mexico and South Dakota.

 Clearly, California was the main battleground as the primary drama unfolded last Tuesday night and on into Wednesday. At stake in the Golden State were seats in all 53 U.S. House districts, one U.S. Senate seat and the governor’s office.

As usual, count on California to be controversial when it comes to politics. For starters, candidates in both parties must contend with the state’s so-called “Jungle Primaries.”
In place since 2010, this system gives the top two vote-getters in the primaries, regardless of their party, entry into the general elections in November.

 That’s why Republican John Cox will face Democrat Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom later this year. Derided by some Democrats as “Trump’s Chump,” Cox garnered roughly 25 percent of votes counted as of this writing, easily outpacing Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa, the former Los Angeles Mayor for the second-place finish.

California Democrats had hoped to target  “vulnerable Republican” House incumbents by tarring them with the Trump brush. However, they could have shot themselves in the foot by flooding key districts with Democrat contenders who had to compete with each other for votes. In turn, that could have advanced two Republicans to the general elections, leaving Democrats shut out of the race. That worst-case scenario for the Democrats has not happened. With some districts still not decided, I doubt that it will happen.

The real challenge facing the Democrats, in California and beyond, is how to flip 23 House seats from the Republican side of the aisle to the Democratic side. With the biggest proportion of those seats being held by 14 California Republicans, the Democrats targeted 10 of them for defeat. As I understand it, they poured most of their money, priority and resources into the seven districts where voters stayed with a Republican in Congress, but voted for Hillary Clinton for president in 2016.

In three of the most closely followed California U.S. House races, Republican Young Kim finished first in District 39, followed by Democrat Gil Cisneros. In District 48, GOP incumbent Dana Rohrabacher finished first and Democrat Hans Kierstead second. In District 49, Republican Diane Harkey finished first, followed by Democrat Mike Levin.

California Democrats were hoping for a “blue wave” to sweep over the Golden State U.S. House races last Tuesday. What they got resembled a ripple. The real waves in California and beyond were made by women there and in the other seven primaries around the country. That’s a good thing in my view.  More on how and why later.

Retired Army Col. Thomas B. Vaughn can be reached at