Archive for the ‘California Politics’ Category

Cutting Through Fog of Polls: The Key Takeaways

Thursday, May 24th, 2018

tonyvcoxAt a time when polling in California is more muddled and uncertain than ever, there’s only one important known unknown in campaigns for statewide office following the two most recent public surveys: Who will come in second in the governor’s race in the prelim June 5 election?

Under California’s top-two system, it seems certain that Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the former Mayor of San Francisco will be the top vote-getter. The question is whether he’ll face off against Democratic former L.A. Mayor and California Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa or recently Trump-endorsed Republican John Cox, a businessman from Rancho Santa Fe who spent most of his political life unsuccessfully seeking various offices in his home state of Illinois.

Latest Numbers. In the most recent poll from the Public Policy Institute of California, the race stood with Newsom 25%, Cox 19% and Villaraigosa 15%. But in the latest survey from USC and the L.A. Times, it was Newsom 21%, Villaraigosa 11% and Cox. 10%. (While Newsom’s percentage has slipped, he’s still far ahead of any other individual contender.)

Confused? You should be. Ever since the collapse of the California Field Poll and the decision by USC-LAT and Berkeley-IGS to use online polling, and with PPIC still using random digit dialing (and not voter lists or replicating the whole ballot), polling has been all over the map.

WTF??? Moreover, target TV and internet advertising in the June preliminary race – where the top two finishers make it to November regardless of party – has become a nasty inter- and intra-party free-fire zone that is guaranteed — not to mention designed — to confuse, mislead and befuddle voters:

Confusion PortraitNewsom is attacking Treasurer John Chiang over competence in an apparent bid to disqualify him and pick up Chiang voters for whom he is the second choice (ranked choice voting comes to the jungle primary!); Newsom and his labor sponsors are also attacking Cox as creature of the NRA in a bid to build up Cox with Trump voters so he finishes ahead of Villaraigosa; Chiang is falsely attacking Villaraigosa over un-analyzed rape kits in L.A. in bid to leap past him; Villaraigosa is attacking Newsom in his Tale of Two Cities ad; and an independent expenditure committee for Villaraigosa is building up a GOP goat farmer to take votes from Cox (calling him a “Democratic activist”) and in other ads suggesting (but not outright saying) that President Obama has endorsed Tony V; former Supe of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin, is hitting everyone, using images of others saying they agree with her, in bid to do…something, we’re not sure.

Got that? No wonder the USC-LA Times poll had 39% of its voters – 4 in 10! — still undecided about the governor’s race. Which was itself a further sign of how screwed-up polling is in California right now, given that PPIC had just 15% undecided and the last IGS poll had undecided at 16%.

latinovotersLatino Turnout is Pivotal. One thing that clearly is making polling harder is that Villaraigosa is depending on a big turnout from Latino voters to propel him into second place. But according to the USC-LAT poll he’s pulling just 23% of likely Latino voters – which would be pretty pathetic.

Over in the PPIC survey, Villaraigosa’s got 39% of Latino likely voters, considerably better. But in PPIC’s survey, Latino likely voters comprise 36% of all Latinos in the survey while white likely voters comprise 69% of whites in the survey. In other words, if PPIC is right (similar to a finding by IGS), Latinos are far less likely to participate in the June election than their numbers would dictate. That’s the central challenge for Tony V.

The independent expenditure committee that’s promoting Villaraigosa – funded by charter school advocates who prefer his position to Newsom’s deferential alliance with the California Teachers Association – is aware of the need to boost Latino turnout. Which is why they’re investing heavily (and perhaps out of sight of most mainstream media) in Spanish-language TV, digital and mail. “We’re making a multi-million-dollar Spanish-language effort a major part of this campaign,” Roger Salazar, an IE consultant, told Calbuzz. “Unfortunately a lot of Spanish language falls under the radar of the public and the media.”

As an aside: The pro-Tony V IE’s private polling shows the race with Newsom at 26%, Cox at 17% and Tony V at 15% (very close to PPIC’s result), but with Villaraigosa gaining in key voting blocs.

feinsteinglassesOh Yeah, the Senate Race. Meanwhile, PPIC reported in the race for U.S. Senate “Feinstein holds a commanding lead against fellow Democrat Kevin de León (41% to 17%) among likely voters, with 36 percent undecided. Among Democrats, a solid majority (65%) support Feinstein, while most Republicans (59%) and independents (47%) are undecided.”

And the LA Times reported its “poll also found Californians who have made up their minds on voting overwhelmingly support Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s reelection bid. Feinstein was favored by 31% of likely voters while her top rival in the race, former state Senate leader Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), was backed by 7%.”

In the USC-LAT poll, 41% were undecided on the Senate race.

calbuzzartThe Calbuzz betting line:

1 –  Feinstein crushes De Leon who limps on to November (unless the Nazi surges).

2 – Newsom comes in first to succeed Jerry Brown, who sadly must step down.

3 – Either Cox or Villaraigosa makes it to November.

If it’s Cox, say hello to Gov. Newsom; in the bigger picture –  those crucial California House races will be substantially tougher for Democrats because Republicans will have a candidate on the ballot. If it’s Tony V, it’s a genuine contest and the Democratic House races look a lot stronger because of big Dem/low Reep turnout.

Bottom line. In other words, if you’re hoping to flip California House seats to help Congress stand up to Trump, you want Gavin vs Tony V in November.

The Only Thing That Mattered in Gov’s TV Debate

Thursday, May 10th, 2018

gavindebateNothing that transpired in Tuesday’s “debate” among candidates for governor of California changed the one and only political question worth discussing about the June 5 preliminary vote: Will Antonio Villaraigosa finish second and set up a serious runoff contest, or will the fall campaign be the Gavin Newsom Coronation Tour?

Based on his subdued, low-energy performance in the statewide televised debate, Tony V appeared to believe he’s got the crucial runner-up spot in June in the bag.

But that’s far from certain, unless his campaign and the independent expenditure committee working on his behalf can turn out a powerful Latino vote to slingshot the former L.A. mayor past Republicans John Cox and/or Travis Allen.

antonio debateOffered a soft pitch he should have knocked out of the park – whether gender or ethnicity should matter in the election – Villaraigosa instead bunted: He was the first Latino speaker of the Assembly and mayor of Los Angeles, he noted. But, he said, “I want to be a governor that unites this great state. This is the most diverse state in the whole world … Yes, I would be the first, and I recognize that, but I also recognize that the role of the first is to open up the door for the rest.”

You can just imagine how electrifying that would be to Latino voters – voters without whom, Tony V (apparently trying not to disturb moderate and conservative whites he’d need against Newsom) might not even make it to November.

As a leading Latino operative tied into the pro-Tony forces told us: he was too cautious at a time when many of the voters he needs don’t even know there’s an election coming up.

The best thing Tony V had going in Tuesday’s debate was the incendiary performance by the rabid right-winger Allen, who has a bright future as a radio ranter if this whole governor thing doesn’t work out. If Allen can steal the Trumpistas from Cox, who seems like a loudmouth version of ex-L.A. Mayor Dick Riordan, the two GOP candidates may leave a space for Villaraigosa to come in second.


The Calbuzz scorecard. For the most part, Villaraigosa seemed tired, flat and devoid of passion for the incredibly challenging gig of succeeding Jerry Brown, California’s best governor since his father. There were moments, however, when his above-the-fray performance seemed mature and practical-minded compared to his rivals, as when he spoke specifically and substantively about what he had done as mayor in standing up to public employee unions to begin to address L.A.’s huge pension liability costs.

Similarly, Treasurer John Chiang deconstructed complex fiscal issues, from housing tax credits to the “bar bell system” of wealth distribution in California, and set forth concrete actions he has, or would, take to address them. But Chiang is the ultimate technocrat and badly needs a charisma implant.

As the front-runner and presumptive June 5 winner,  Newsom took most of the fire in the event and, to his credit, remained cool, articulate and composed.

Also: the tallest person on stage. Crucial factor for those who subscribe to the theory that the biggest candidate always wins.

Delaine Eastin consistently was the most wound up of the contenders. We admire her passion and energy, but Eastin is a one-note symphony:  she’s got only one gear – pedal-to-the-metal red line – - and one answer to everything – education, education and more education – which makes it seem like she thinks she”s running for her old job of state school supe, instead of governor.

The white-haired Cox is impressive looking, a central casting Republican governor, but bangs a little too heavy on the keys, apparently in an effort to seem as crazy as Allen in order to appeal to the Trumpkins base of the GOP that is most likely to vote in the primary.

Amid his throw-everything-against-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks act,  the knuckle-dragging assemblyman Allen took the toughest shot at Prince Gavin: “If you can’t trust Gavin with your best friend’s wife, how can you trust him with the state?” Allen asked, referring to a 2005 affair Newsom had with a staffer who was married to his campaign manager and best friend.

It was a pretty good line, but Prince Gavin knocked it down by noting the irony of such a critique coming from an avid supporter of Donald Trump, then launching into his standard me culpa, mea maxima culpa about how the skeevy episode actually has Made Me a Better Person. Gag.

To the surprise of no one, the Democrats all opposed Trump’s border wall and said they wouldn’t have horse-traded it even for safety for DACA dreamers. They all supported high speed rail, expanded health care, early childhood education and other liberal orthodoxies. The Republicans supported Trump’s border wall, opposed sanctuary cities and everything else that’s popular among most California voters.

Our old friend Chuck Todd of “Meet the Press” did his best to wrangle the candidates, but with 18 questions and answers held to 60 seconds what viewers experienced was a sort of political speed-dating with policy garnish tossed about.

foodfightA final word. Our four colleagues on the press panel mostly asked good questions, but with no time for follow-ups, they often went to waste as the candidates just riffed on their campaign talking points.

We’ve said it before and we say it again: get rid of the damn reporter panels in these set piece “debates”  and let a skilled moderator like Chuck ringmaster the whole affair, steering the conversation in ways that get the candidates talking to and against each other.

There were no injuries.

Bretón: Why Prince Gavin’s Character Fails the Test

Tuesday, May 8th, 2018

BretonWith their clever attack ad on Republican John Cox, designed to elevate Cox and thereby keep fellow Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa from coming in second in the June preliminary vote for governor, Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s campaign has proved its Machiavellian dexterity. But what of the man himself? At least one seasoned columnist is unimpressed. Here’s a devastating assessment, republished, from Marcos Bretón of the Sacramento Bee.

By Marcos Bretón

If Gavin Newsom is elected governor of California without so much as a speed bump on his political journey of entitlement, it may take future social scientists to explain why current California voters were so willing to give this guy a pass on all the things we know about him.

Can’t you see this picture for what it really is?

The 50-year-old lieutenant governor and former mayor of San Francisco is the living embodiment of privilege, and people seem to be OK with that. He has white male privilege. Class privilege. Wealth privilege. The privilege of good looks.

If one of Newsom’s opponents – say, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa or State Treasurer John Chiang – were bankrolled by one of the richest men in California for most of their lives, as Newsom has been by oil heir Gordon Getty, they would be answering for it every day on the campaign trail.

A Mexican American guy or an Asian guy having a rich, white sugar daddy greasing the skids for them at every critical turn of their adult lives would be viewed with suspicion. But that is what Newsom had with Getty.

Villaraigosa or Chiang would have been described as puppets. They would be described as being in the pocket of their patron. Meanwhile, Newsom has gotten to call himself an “entrepreneur” for years.

Yeah, that’s rich.

How much of an entrepreneur can you really be when one rich guy pumps huge money into just about everything you do?

gavinandgettyAgain, this isn’t a new story. Back in 2003, the San Francisco Chronicle wrote that Getty helped Newsom become a millionaire by investing in every one of his ventures. A story in The Sacramento Bee a year ago chronicled Newsom’s ties to Getty and his financial benefits from them. Where would Newsom’s privileged portfolio be without Getty pumping money into his wine business, hospitality business, real estate business?

Getty was often the lead investor in Newsom businesses and, as it always does, money followed money. The picture of Newsom that has evolved over time is of a man who just naturally runs with the wealthy. He doesn’t generate headlines because, say, institutional money flows his way.

But when Villaraigosa gets a $12.5 million expenditure from billionaire Eli Broad, Reed Hastings of Netflix and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, it’s a story for days. It’s a story about evil charter school investors using Villaraigosa to take on public schools.

Villaraigosa was also criticized for working as a consultant for Herbalife, the L.A.-based nutritional supplements company targeted by the feds for deceptive business practices. Villaraigosa consulted for them after he was mayor of Los Angeles. Newsom’s wealth, according to many accounts, has risen since he became an elected official.

But apparently Newsom’s money is clean, and Villaraigosa’s is dirty. When you’re bankrolled by a rich patron, you don’t have to humble yourself by having to earn a living after you leave office, as Villaraigosa did.

Don’t take my word for it: “I think it’s unfair to candidates who are of modest means and can’t finance their own campaigns to assert or insinuate that every single entity they take campaign contributions from they’re in debt to,” Garry South, a political consultant who doesn’t have a candidate in the governor’s race, told the Los Angeles Times. “It just doesn’t work that way.”

Well, it doesn’t work that way for Newsom. He’s banked millions of dollars without the stain of patronage sticking to him. But Villaraigosa is accused of being in the pocket of charter schools or Herbalife.

Why is this? Why is it OK for one candidate to get rich while in office but another to get criticized for making money out of office?

The reasons go deeper than Villaraigosa’s brown skin and Chiang’s immigrant background creating bigger hurdles for them to clear.

If another gubernatorial candidate, Delaine Eastin, had slept with a subordinate while she was state superintendent of public instruction, and if the subordinate had gotten thousands of public dollars in a payoff not seen before or since, would the public even accept her as a candidate?

Before you answer that, consider Megan Barry, the now-disgraced ex-mayor of Nashville. Barry was the first female mayor of Nashville. She was a progressive star on the rise. She had an affair with the head of her security team. Barry and her lover were accused of misappropriating more than $11,000 in public money. Barry resigned, agreed to reimburse the money. Her lover will pay back more than $40,000 he banked in overtime while working for Barry.

OK, well, in 2007 Newsom had an affair with his appointments secretary. And she wasn’t just his secretary. She was married to one of his top political aides and best friend. After the affair became public, Newsom’s lover somehow landed a $10,000 payout in public money from a fund intended for city employees with catastrophic and life-threatening illnesses.

How can sleeping with Gavin Newsom be considered a catastrophic or life-theatening illness?

As The Bee’s Angela Hart reported: “(Ruby Rippey-Tourk) was given approval by the former director of San Francisco’s public health department, Mitch Katz, according to documents received by The Sacramento Bee. She was granted approval for her substance abuse problems – a rare qualification. (Katz is a close adviser to Newsom on health care.)”

“A 2007 investigation by the city attorney’s office found no one other than Rippey-Gibbey had been allowed to receive sick leave payments for substance abuse alone, and there were cases in which city employees were denied participation in the program for substance abuse unaccompanied by a life-threatening illness.,” Hart wrote.

So nobody else ever got a payout like this, except the woman who slept with Newsom? And it was granted by a guy who now works for Newsom. As usual, Newsom was cleared of wrongdoing. Of course he was.

gavinlookrightBut how do you sleep with the wife of your best friend? Where do your mind and soul go when you allow yourself to descend to such a dark place? But it gets better. Newsom told everyone he had a drinking problem. So his grievous betrayal became about substance abuse. He had a problem, right? The narrative became that Newsom was going to rehab. He let everyone believe that he was going into legitimate alcohol rehab. It was all part of the Newsom redemption tour.

And then suddenly, as reported by Hart last month, it turned out he didn’t. He went to some encounter group meetings run by one of his enablers. But real legitimate alcohol rehab? Nope.

Instead, he told Hart, “No, there’s no rehab. I just stopped. There was no treatment, no nothing related to any of that stuff. I stopped because I thought it was a good thing to stop.”

Well, if you “just stopped” drinking, that means you had control over it. If you have control over drink to where you can “just stop,” that means you have control of your faculties. That means you could have “just stopped” instead of sleeping with your best friend’s wife, but you did it anyway.

That means you really are capable of doing anything or saying anything. That means you don’t have my vote, pal.

But you do have that little privilege-think. It resurfaced again this week when a political ad by Republican candidate John Cox comparing Newsom infidelity with an affair Villaraigosa had with a TV reporter a decade ago. It was misleading and played right into Newsom’s hands. If the public thinks that their affairs were the same, it helps Newsom. Villaigosa’s affair, while costing him his marriage, was an issue of consenting adults. HIs lover wasn’t a government employee who got a big payoff.

That’s how privilege works in Newsom’s charmed life – even Republicans help him out.

Who’s On Second? CA Polling Is a Muddled Mess

Monday, April 30th, 2018

gavindianneHere’s what we know about the 2018 California races for governor and U.S. Senate: Democrats Gavin Newsom and Dianne Feinstein will come in first in the June preliminary vote. If past polling and logic prove reliable, Democrats Antonio Villaraigosa and Kevin de Leon will come in second in those races and proceed to the November general election. But recent — and somewhat inexplicable — internet polling from Survey USA and Berkeley’s IGS, combined with the unpredictable effect of new TV advertising, leave both races in doubt.

What we do know is that internet polling – as opposed to genuine random sampling of the voting population – is a work in progress. So when the Institute of Governmental Studies says Republicans John Cox and Travis Allen lead Villaraigosa for second place in the governor’s race, and when Survey USA says Republican Patrick Little is ahead of de Leon in the Senate race, all we can do is ask, “WTF?”

kevinandtonyNumbers that make no sense Take the IGS survey, run by the esteemed former director of the California Field Poll, Mark DiCamillo: In their December survey – which was done classically by telephone among a random sample of California registered voters – Newsom led Villaraigosa 26-17% among likely voters. But in their April, survey – in which registered voters were sent an email and asked to link to an IGS online poll – Newsom stood at 30%, Cox at 18%, Allen 16% and Villaraigosa at 9%.

But wait: Among Latinos, Villaraigosa (who had 39% in December) was now drawing just 26%, compared to 16% for Newsom and 15% for Allen. WTF?

“It might be a low-side estimate,” DiCamillo told us. But their latest sampling suggests fewer younger, down-scale and Los Angeles Latinos will participate in the June election so “Many of the Latinos who would be Villaraigosa supporters will likely not be participating in the primary.” (Hmm, does that mean their earlier polling was wrong? Did something happen to all those Latino likely voters?)

Not according to Survey USA. Their online poll had Villaraigosa at 37% among Latinos, followed by Newsom at 16% and Allen at 6%.

einstein1+1Something is happening here… Now, we’re not holding Survey USA up as a model – far from it. Their alleged polling has always been suspect. But that’s a HUGE difference. So something is screwy.

That’s not the only weird difference. Among Democrats, IGS has Newsom at 51% and Tony V at 14%, while Survey USA has Democrats 35% for Newsom and 29% for Villaraigosa. Among independents, IGS has Newsom at 28% compared to 9% for Villaraigosa; Survey USA has it 21-17%.

In the Senate race, Survey USA found Little, an avowed anti-Semite hardly anyone has ever heard of, in second place. “We want to be around other whites, safe from non-whites,” Little wrote on his blog post a while back. WTF?

Clearly, IGS and Survey USA were polling different populations – one example: voters aged 65 and over were 38% of the sample in the governor’s race survey by IGS and 26% in the Survey USA poll – and whether either of them was polling the actual population that will turn out in June is unlikely.

For one thing, TV advertising, including a significant push by an independent expenditure committee for Villaraigosa – is just now hitting the airwaves. The Republican Senate candidates have relatively scant resources, while De Leon has enough to make a splash.

Bottom line: Public polling on California politics – once the envy of the country – now is a muddle. We’re actual fans of well-run public opinion surveys and we’re aware that DiCamillo is trying to find a methodology that is both affordable and deals with declining response rates in phone polling.

But right now, we’re not sure what anyone can trust. We’d love to see the Public Policy Institute of California start using the voter rolls for its otherwise excellent surveys and we’d like the Los Angeles Times/USC to do more live interview polling. Until then, caveat emptor.

Three Big Questions Shaping California Politics

Friday, April 20th, 2018

jerryrobertsJerry Roberts spends most of his energy these days wrangling horses and politicos in Santa Barbara, where he is the RW Apple of hyper-local concerns. Occasionally he lifts his sights beyond Santa Maria to offer his thoughts on the state at large. This is from a recent post on the Santa Barbara Independent.

…Around California there are a host of campaigns and contests whose outcomes will reverberate throughout the state and across the nation. It starts with the paramount political question of 2018: Can Democrats snatch early defeat from the jaws of victory in their momentous bid to win the House of Representatives in November?

In the general election, Democrats must flip at least 24 House seats now in the GOP column in order to fracture Republican hegemony in Washington. Essential to their calculus is California, where Dems need to capture at least seven Republican seats ​— ​most in Orange County and the Central Valley, where Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump in 2016 ​— ​to find a viable path to national victory in the fall.

However, anti-Trump enthusiasm on the left has clogged the ballot in several contests with a surfeit of Democrats, setting up a scenario under California’s open primary system in which Democratic contenders may splinter the liberal vote, paving the way for a one-two Republican finish in June and hence an all-GOPrunoff in November.

rohrabacherCase in point: In Orange County, embattled Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, aka “Putin’s favorite congressman,” had been seen as a strong favorite to lose his seat to a Democrat ​— ​until widely known GOP former assemblymember Scott Baugh recently jumped into the race. With six ​— ​six, count ’em, six ​— ​Democrats running, each of whom has raised more than $100,000, it’s easy to see Rohrabacher and Baugh finishing 1-2, freezing the Dems out of the general election runoff.

With less than 50 days until the election, here are a few other big questions framing the primary:

Can immigration outrage save the Reps? To date, there is considerably more partisan enthusiasm among Democrats about the midterms, fueled by resistance and loathing toward Trump. In recent weeks, however, GOP leaders have found an issue that may galvanize their voters: A series of conservative local governments, most prominently the Orange County Board of Supervisors, have joined Trump Attorney General Jeff Sessions in his lawsuit challenging California’s “sanctuary state” law, which limits the cooperation law enforcement here extends to federal immigration authorities. Republican campaign operatives hope the anti-Sacramento Democrat action will give their voters a rallying cry and a reason to turn out in the primary.

antonioCan Netflix save Antonio? The trick for Antonio Villaraigosa in the race to succeed Governor Jerry Brown is to place second on June 5, amid widespread expectations that Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, who’s way ahead in fundraising and has been campaigning for three years, will finish first. However, the former L.A. mayor in recent polls has slipped into third place, behind Republican John Cox, who is consolidating GOP votes. Then last week, Villaraigosa received a huge boost from Netflix chair Reed Hastings, who donated $7 million to an independent expenditure group backing him. Hastings likes Villaraigosa because of the latter’s record of support for charter schools; if the money helps put him in the runoff, education will be a central issue, because Newsom enjoys the full-bore support of the anti-charter California Teachers Association.

poizcropIs there a future for independents? Although No Party Preference independents by far are the fastest growing portion of the California electorate, no candidate outside the two major parties has ever come close to winning a statewide race. Now that could change, as former insurance commissioner Steve Poizner, who served in the aughts, is campaigning for his old job ​— ​running as an independent. A Silicon Valley zillionaire, Poizner made a fortune on GPS technology; after losing a bitter primary race for governor to Meg Whitman in 2010, he would win national attention by finishing in the top two in a campaign that features two Democratic wannabes.