Bay Area advantage — Is being from LA a statewide political liability?

A view toward the Bay Bridge, via Chinatown. (Photo: Christian Mehlfuhrer)

ANALYSIS: Los Angeles County is home to more than 26% of all Californians kontaktanonse. But when it comes to running for statewide office, being from Los Angeles may be more of an obstacle than a political advantage.

While the people may be in Los Angeles, the largest chunk of the state’s voters – those who actually cast ballots — come from the nine counties in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can see the numbers here.

The gap between Los Angeles and the Bay Area is even more pronounced in primary elections, and more so among Democrats.

Of all nine statewide elected officials, including California’s two U.S. Senators, only Secretary of State Debra Bowen and Controller John Chiang hail from Los Angeles.

The Bay Area advantage can help explain why Board of Equalization member Betty Yee holds an early edge over Assembly Speaker John Pérez in the race for state controller. It may also explain why seven of the nine Democrats who hold statewide office in California hail from the Bay Area.

“There’s more of a Northern California bias in the overall electorate,” said Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll.

In contested Democratic primaries in 2010, former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom crushed Janice Hahn, a scion of a popular Los Angeles political family, in the race for lieutenant governor. Kamala Harris, who was serving as San Francisco District Attorney, bested a crowded Democratic field, including two L.A.-based legislators and the city attorney, Rocky Delgadillo.

That same year, Northern Californian Dave Jones crushed Southgate’s Hector De La Torre in the Democratic contest for state insurance commissioner.

Of all nine statewide elected officials, including California’s two U.S. Senators, only Secretary of State Debra Bowen and Controller John Chiang hail from Los Angeles.

Adding to the Bay Area advantage is the region’s higher number of voters who cast ballots by mail.

“What we’re seeing is the impact of the low numbers of permanent absentees in LA County,” said Paul Mitchell, vice president of the firm Political Data Inc. Mitchell says that statistics show Bay Area Latinos are more likely to vote than a Latino living in Los Angeles. Poor people from Sonoma are far more likely to cast a ballot than someone living in poverty in Echo Park.

“L.A. County has the lowest permanent absentee voter rate in the state,” Mitchell said. “It’s hard to see any other single factor contributing to what’s happening here. Any candidate trying to count on a base from LA County, this creates a deficit for their campaign.”

The trend is one Pérez is hoping to overcome later this spring.

A recent survey from Field shows Yee attracting 19 percent of the vote in the June primary election. Perez is currently running third with 14 percent, though more than a third of all voters remain undecided.

A recent Field Poll showed Fresno mayor Ashley Swearengin, a Republican, is running ahead of both Democrats with support from 28% of those surveyed. The top two vote-getters in June’s election, regardless of party, will advance to the November run-off.

The Field survey assumes that statewide 24% of the June primary voters will be from the Bay Area, while just 20% of the ballots cast will come from Los Angeles County.

Among Democrats, the discrepancy is likely to be even more pronounced. In June 2010, 31% of the Democratic ballots cast came from the nine Bay Area counties. Just 21% were from Los Angeles.

This year’s primary is the first statewide election to be held under new voting rules, where all registered voters will be allowed to cast ballots for any candidate, regardless of the candidate’s party registration. But most election experts say in the statewide offices up for grabs, the race for the two spots in the November runoff is likely to be decided by Republicans and Democrats.

Yee has another advantage over Pérez heading into the June statewide election – her gender.

In early polling, women have an advantage in a Democratic election,” said pollster Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll. “When you compare two Democrats neither of whom are well known, the advantage is to a woman. That’s because 57% of registered Democrats are women.  Just 43% are men.”

The test for Pérez is whether his dramatic fundraising advantage over Yee will be enough to overcome the geographic and gender disadvantages in the June primary. In the latest round of campaign finance reports, Perez had about $1.8 million in the bank. Yee had just over $100,000.

Perhaps that will be enough to overcome Yee’s Bay Area advantage.

Ed’s Note: Anthony York writes regularly on political  issues. He also works on a part-time, contract basis for a Southern California public relations firm.


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