Does Trump affect down-ballot races?

A California voter casts a ballot. (Photo: Vepar5)

In a fairly rare occurrence, this year’s primary election in California could actually matter in terms of who becomes the Republican Party’s nominee.  (California had a chance of being relevant with March primaries in 1996, 2000 and 2004; however, Bob Dole and George W. Bush  already had largely sealed their deals.)

Oddly enough, our June 7 primary this year will impact the race to Cleveland, and could pave the way for a Donald Trump nomination. Whatever outcome results, Trump’s name on the ballot will drive extremely high voter participation and Secretary of State Alex Padilla recently warned counties to expect such.

“How much does it matter to down-ballot candidates?” The simple answer is: “Probably a lot!”

Other recent announcements include the notice that Trump will kick off the April 29 California GOP Convention in Burlingame as the first-day keynote luncheon speaker. So GOP state Chairman Jim Brulte takes Trump seriously.

And the notice that Team Trump just hired Tim Clark to help run their California operation certainly helps ensure a well-organized GOTV effort.

Candidate Trump’s obvious appeal to “Tea Party” voters and millions of others in over 20 states where he won a plurality of their primaries’ popular votes portend a big June 7 California turnout.

One question that a lot of people should be asking is, “How much does it matter to down-ballot candidates?” The simple answer is: “Probably a lot!”  Everyone, including Democrats, should begin thinking about the down-ballot implications.

A big turnout matters to the CRP’s endorsed candidates.  It matters in local races.  And it should matter to the Democrats.

A potentially huge number of anti-establishment, anti-immigrant, pro-Trump voters will almost certainly affect down-ballot contests.  The political professionals are no doubt beginning to anticipate that a huge turnout will mean a concomitant boost to the most “pro-Trump” primary candidates and that there will be a down-side for the perceived “establishment” candidates, especially in open seats.

A big turnout matters to the CRP’s endorsed candidates.  It matters in local races.  And it should matter to the Democrats.  Pro-Trump candidates who make it to November will matter, plus or minus, especially if Trump ends up on the November ballot.  It might even matter in what would normally be considered relatively safe Republican districts. It makes a difference in the potential for supermajorities in the Assembly and the Senate.

Tim Clark spent about 15 years working side-by-side with his self-described mentor, Wayne Johnson.  Let’s just say that firm took no prisoners; they weren’t afraid to play hardball, so the Trump campaign in California probably got just who they were looking for.

The upshot is that more than a few of the most conspicuous, down-ballot candidates seen as “most pro-Trump” are likely to do a lot better than expected when they filed their papers sometime before March 15 or were laying the groundwork in the months leading up to their filings.   Some will head into November.  In safe Republican seats where both primary nominees are Republicans, some of them will be elected.  In swing districts, maybe not so much.  It isn’t unheard of for members of the opposing party to engage in these primaries – remember Claire McCaskill?

The political professionals and elected leaders who occupy positions with a lot more access to district-by-district data and current campaign activities than I have can sort this out.

But to the citizenry of California, our local elected officials really do matter. A change in the tone and tenor and outcomes of the upcoming campaigns, based on the fact that the June 7 primary will witness a surge in turnout of  “non-chronic voters” who will turn out to vote for Donald Trump could determine who gets nominated and elected, and who doesn’t.

Ed’s Note: David Peters served as chief of staff to former state Sen. Richard Polanco, D-Los Angeles.


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