If there was a truly bright spot for Democrats last November anywhere in red-state America, it was surely in Colorado (with Montana running a close second). Of all the Democratic candidates in close U.S. Senate races, Ken Salazar was the only winner. His brother, John, pulled off one of the few gains Democrats were able to make in U.S. House seats. And Democrats won control of both branches of the state legislature. Now they look poised to take back the governorship next year, and run the whole shooting match.With Democrats around the country looking to Colorado Democrats as role models, you’d think Chris Gates, the state party chair who oversaw this remarkable election day would be on an extended victory lap. But no: yesterday the state party’s executive committee ousted him as chair in favor of environmental activist Pat Waak (Gates is contesting the outcome based on a claim that certain proxy votes didn’t get counted).According to press reports, the coup against Gates was basically an act of revenge by “activists” unhappy with his less-than-secret support of Salazar in his Senate primary against fellow-activist Mike Miles. Presumably, Gates’ perfidious maneuvering, in tandem with virtually everybody in the national party who wanted to win a Senate seat, was responsible for Salazar’s photo-finish 73-27 win over Miles in the primary.I don’t live in Colorado, and thus don’t know if something else is going on, but it sure as hell looks like suicidal cannibalism of the highest order. And it poses a real challenge to those outside Colorado who keep insisting that the post-election activist insurgency in Democratic circles is “not about ideology, but about Democrats winning.” I know some people are unhappy with Salazar about his vote to confirm Gonzeles (which I disagreed with myself), but Jesus, folks, if the Democratic tent isn’t big enough for Ken Salazar–a guy recently touted by no less a fire-breather than David Sirota as a hero of “populist progressivism”–then we better get ready for permanent minority status.The Colorado Coup is especially bad news for new DNC chairman Howard Dean, who may now have to treat one of the most successful state party organizations in the country as yet another basket case. And it doesn’t much help that at least a few of his more vocal and visible supporters are touting the Coup as part of a “silent revolution” spurred by the Dean movement. I know Dean has other fish to fry right now, and is trying to keep a relatively low profile. But if he should happen to feel the need for a bit of a Sister Souljah moment to instill a sense of political reality in Activist World, this would be a really good occasion to indulge it.UPCATEGORY: Ed Kilgore’s New Donkey
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
Pouring over the details of the gubernatorial recall election in California, some significant patterns emerged, as I noted at New York:
The overwhelming defeat of the effort to recall California governor Gavin Newsom was a big victory for a Democratic Party that has had its troubles lately. With the margin of victory for the “no on recall” campaign roughly doubling the already-robust advantage shown in pre-election polls, the earlier scare that the recall threw into the ranks of the Golden State’s dominant party dissipated entirely. With about three-fourths of the expected vote now counted, “no” leads “yes” by a 63.8 to 36.2 margin (which could get even larger if the usual pattern of last-cast mail ballots leaning Democratic manifests itself once again).
The “no” vote was remarkably close to Joe Biden’s performance in California in 2020 (he won 63.5 percent). Given the extreme partisan polarization that underlay the recall vote (exit polls showed 89 percent of self-identified Republicans voting “yes” and 94 percent of self-identified Democrats voting “no”), that means the partisan patterns of the presidential race were reduplicated to a remarkable extent in a non-presidential special election, where Democrats often experience a “falloff,” particularly when they control the White House (and in this case, the governorship). That’s great news for California Democrats, and not a bad sign for Democrats nationally, who are bracing for the midterm losses the “White House Party” typically suffers.But in assessing the implications of the results, it’s important to look back at what happened down ballot in California in 2020, while looking ahead to the most critical 2022 battleground, the fight for control of the House. Of the 13 net House seats Republicans gained in 2020, four were in deep-blue California. There is no likely path for Democrats to hang onto House control in 2022 without flipping some or all of those lost seats in one of their strongest states.
Precisely because of the reduplication of the 2020 patterns, there’s really nothing about the recall returns that suggests Democrats are sure to claw back some House seats in California. Two of the four seats Republicans flipped in 2020 (with Asian-American women Young Kim and Michelle Steele as candidates) were centered in Orange County. While “no” won in Orange, the recall race there was closer than the Biden-Trump contest of 2020. A third battleground seat was the one Republican David Valadao won in a very competitive section of the San Joaquin Valley. The recall improved on Trump’s 2020 performance in every county in his district (e.g., Trump won 55 percent in Kings County, but “yes” on recalling Newsom won 63 percent). These results could reflect an intensifying alienation of this heavily agricultural area from Sacramento’s environmental and water-supply policies. Or it could reflect a drop-off in Latino turnout that could spell disaster for Democrats in close 2022 races. Either way the recall numbers should give pause to Democratic optimism about midterm House races.
One study of 2020 returns in California showed Latino turnout trailing non-Latino turnout by about 10 percent. One mail-ballot tracker for the recall showed the turnout gap between Latinos and non-Latino white voters swelling to 20 percent. Youth turnout for the recall was also terrible, exit polls suggest. Yes, these are constituencies that are difficult to mobilize in special elections. But that’s also true of midterm elections, which is a problem Democrats in California and elsewhere need to solve.
The bottom line is that Newsom won the Democratic and Democratic-leaning elements of the California electorate by strongly encouraging partisan polarization via his lavishly funded campaign. This was the obvious smart strategy in this heavily Democratic state. It’s less clear the same strategy will work wonders downballot for Democrats in 2022, which they probably will not have a big financial advantage and shifts in public opinion away from the presidential winner may have settled in, as they did for the last three presidents. Even if Democrats hang onto their monopoly of statewide offices and their super-majorities in the state legislature, any failure to make progress in House races could contribute to the much-dreaded moment when Californian Nancy Pelosi hands over her gavel to Californian Kevin McCarthy, and the Democratic trifecta that gives Biden a chance to implement his agenda comes to an end.