Legislative Update: 2020 Election

Edelstein Gilbert Robson & Smith

The November 3 election is fast approaching and unlike past elections, due to COVID-19 ALL California voters will be mailed a ballot that can be returned to election officials by mail or dropped off at designated locations.   California’s voter registration statistics show that a record-high 83 percent of those eligible are registered to vote and that number will climb as California allows voters to register right up until the election.   Record-high voter registration, combined with the high interest generated from a Presidential election year and ease of casting a ballot means we are expecting a high and early voter turnout in California.

At the time of this writing, California’s voter registration numbers show that there are almost twice as many registered Democrats versus Republicans and No-Party Preference (NPP) voters with 46 percent registered as Democrats and 24 percent registered as Republicans and NPP.   With such a huge statewide advantage in registration and with NPP voters tending to vote for Democrats, there is an obvious reason that 75 percent of the Legislature is comprised of Democrats.

Heading into the November 3 election, the question is whether Republican legislators can maintain the status quo, gain seats, or continue the decades-long reduction in representation and relevancy.

Democrat vs. Republican

The State Senate is currently comprised of 29 Democrats and 11 Republicans.   Heading into the election there is little-to-no-chance for the Republicans to pick up seats in the State Senate.  As discussed below, the Democrat versus Republican races involve four Republican seats, while the Democrat held seats involve Democrats facing off against Democrats.

Senate District 29  – Senator Ling Ling Chang (R) vs. Josh Newman (D)  –This three-county (LA, Orange, San Bernardino) race is the third ballot fight involving Josh Newman and Ling Ling Chang.   In 2016, Newman surprised many by defeating Chang in a close election and thereby exposed the Republicans’ vulnerability in what was previously thought to be safe Republican territory.   Senator Newman was then recalled by voters due to his vote to increase gas taxes in 2018 and replaced by Chang in a Special Election.   Now, they are facing each other in a rematch from 2016.  This time, however, the voter registration is strongly in favor of Newman who also enjoys a significant fundraising advantage having raised approximately $3 million to date.

Senate District 37 – Senator John Moorlach (R) vs. Dave Min (D) – This race, which is fully in Orange County, pits Senator John Moorlach against a former congressional aide and UC Irvine Professor, Dave Min.   Moorlach, an accountant by profession, is widely recognized as a serious and thoughtful legislator on matters pertaining to the state budget and long-term debt.   His views on public pension obligations raise the ire of public employee unions who have contributed heavily to his challenger.   The voter registration in this district is essentially even.  It would be expected that Senator Moorlach would benefit from significant name identification having previously held countywide office as the Orange County Treasurer and as a County Supervisor.   However, Min will likely have a significant fundraising advantage to get his name and message out.

Senate District 23 – Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh (R) vs Abigail Medina (D) – This Inland Empire seat is currently held by a Republican Senator who declined to run for re-election.  Comprising both San Bernardino and Riverside Counties, this historically Republican seat has seen significant Democratic voter registration gains in recent years and now Democrats have a registration advantage in this district.  Bogh is a realtor by profession and it would be expected that the CA Realtors Association would devote financial resources to an independent expenditure effort on her behalf.  Medina is a school board member and community organizer and she has received and will continue to receive significant support from the Democratic Party establishment.  This is expected to be a close race.

Senate District 21 – Senator Scott Wilk (R) vs. Kipp Mueller (D) – This Los Angeles County portion of this seat stretches from Santa Clarita up through Lancaster to the High Desert communities of Apple Valley and Victorville.  Again, another historically Republican seat that has undergone a change in voter registration where the Democrats now have significant 7-point registration advantage.   Senator Wilk is known for his hard work representing his district and has prevailed over previous well-funded efforts to unseat him.  In recent weeks, however, significant financial resources have poured into the Mueller campaign making this a race to watch on election night.

Democrat vs. Democrat

There are two races that will not impact the Democrat versus Republican split in the Senate.  Though, they could impact the ideological split within the Senate Democratic Caucus between moderate Democrats and progressive Democrats.

SD 15 Dave Cortese (D) vs. Ann Ravel (D) – This race in San Jose/Silicon Valley is between two Democrats.  Ann Ravel is an attorney and former election compliance official in the Obama Administration while Dave Cortese has been a locally elected county supervisor, city council member and rancher.   Cortese has the support of traditional Democratic allies in organized labor and public employee unions who spent heavily in the March primary.   Ravel is supported by broader base of business, community groups and enjoys editorial support for her election.   While Cortese significantly outpolled Ravel in the primary, with only the two Democrats on the ballot it becomes a matter of whether Ravel can pick up the voters who voted for the Republican and NPP candidates in the primary.

SD 9 Senator Scott Wiener (D) vs. Jackie Fielder (D) – Only in San Francisco can one of the most progressive and liberal legislators in the Capitol be considered a moderate.   That is the situation facing incumbent Senator Scott Wiener who is facing a challenge from the left by community activist Jackie Fielder.  As a challenger to an incumbent, Fielder is getting a surprising amount of fundraising support from groups within labor and tribal gaming.   We believe Senator Wiener will prevail on election day.  But, the dynamics of the race and its implications on intra party politics make it a race worth watching.

Next Week – Assembly Races to Watch