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The Riggs Report: California as the Election Night exception

Voters rewarded the GOP nationally, but not in the Golden State

When the dust settled on Election Night last week, Republicans had plenty to celebrate on a large scale. They had regained control of the U.S. Senate, picking up eight seats. They had solidified their hold on the House of Representatives with a gain of 14 seats. They had gained the governor’s mansion in three states.

And then there was California; an island of exception to the GOP tide.

Democrats reelected Gov. Jerry Brown to a record fourth term by a landslide, swept all other statewide constitutional offices, and retained their control of both houses of the state Legislature.

About the only thing California had in common with the rest of the nation, in other words, was a profound lack of voter interest, with record-low turnout.

Pollsters Mark DiCamillo of the Field Poll and Mark Baldassare of the Public Policy Institute of California are the grand masters of electoral research in California, and offered their perspectives on those results this week during a joint appearance before the Sacramento Press Club.

Fewer citizen initiatives on the ballot this year “gave voters fewer reasons and fewer televised reminders” to cast their vote, Baldassare said.

In fact, all citizen initiatives are now placed on the November ballot, and not on the June primary, under a measure, Senate Bill 202, that was signed by Brown in 2011.

Voter disinterest was also fueled by the lack of drama and competition in this year’s race for governor, with Jerry Brown leading opponent Neel Kashkari by double digits in pre-election polls.

That low voter turnout should have worked to the Republicans’ advantage in a state where Democrats have a 15-point registration advantage. And in fact, Republicans were successful in blocking Democrats from regaining the two-thirds supermajority in the Legislature that they obtained in 2012.

But Republicans were unable to overcome two distinct divides, DiCamillo said; the advantage that Democrats have in coastal regions and among nonwhite ethnic groups. Blue coastal counties, where 70 percent of registered voters live, had the votes to swamp the red inland counties.

And then there was this development late Wednesday: Democratic Congressman Ami Bera gained a lead, for the first time since Election Day, in his bid to win a second term in the 7th Congressional District. New numbers from the Sacramento County Elections Office showed that Bera had gained a slim 711 vote margin over Republican Doug Ose.

The numbers have been steadily moving in the wrong direction for Ose; another reminder of the perils that Republicans face in California, in contrast with so much of the rest of the country.