Midterms 2018: Political Postmortem

A Few Mysteries Remain in a Statewide Election that Played Out Mostly to Form

Gavin Newsom

Paul Wellman (file)

Gavin Newsom

At first glance, Election Night in America Continued sounds like an SNL spoof of cable news.

In fact, it’s the actual name of a program aired by CNN this week, a bid to correct and update instant analysis narratives that big-bucks bloviators peddled on Election Night.

Chief among them: Whether the Democratic capture of the House of Representatives is a big enough win to call a “blue wave,” which would demonstrate atypical midterm opposition and revulsion to an opposing-party president.

The initial consensus of cable’s pundit class seemed to be “meh,” as they reported that while Dems won more than the necessary 23 seats, it wasn’t enough for wave status. Within days, however, it was clear that more were breaking their way — enough perhaps to bring their total as high as 40, a number not reached since the 1974 Watergate election.

HOUSE MATTERS: Revisionist talking heads revised because of a crucial fact too often neglected on election night, when competition for breathless pronouncements, memorable tweets, and blistering-hot takes is ferocious: It ain’t over until, um, the votes get counted.

Exhibit A: California, where more than one-fourth of nearly 13 million votes cast – 3.6 million ballots – have yet to be tallied, following recent-year state election reforms authorizing same-day registration and acceptance of mail-ins postmarked as late as midnight on Election Day. In this context, results of several key House races declared done deals on November 6 either shifted or still remain unclear.

At first, just one of six congressional districts featuring high-profile partisan battles (Independent Nov. 1) was called for the Dems — the Orange/San Diego counties 49th district, where environmental attorney Mike Levin prevailed in a contest for a previously Republican open seat.

Since then, three more Democrats in California battleground districts have claimed victory: homeless advocate Katie Hill over incumbent Steve Knight in the nearby 25th CD; businessman Harley Rouda over 15-term Dana Rohrabacher, R-Moscow, in the 48th; and venture capitalist Josh Harder over Jeff Denham in San Joaquin Valley’s 10th.

In two other closely watched campaigns in Orange County — where 300,000 ballots remain to be counted — Democrats keep creeping closer: University professor Katie Porter trails GOP incumbent Mimi Walters by less than one percent as counting continues, while Gil Cisneros, a self-funding Democratic millionaire, trails by a more daunting 1.2 percent against Republican Young Kim.

GOLDEN STATERS: Amid the Democrats’ expected domination of state races, two constitutional offices still hung in the balance as party-endorsed candidates were overcoming the early leads of political outsiders.

Steve Poizner, seeking to become Insurance Commissioner as the first nonpartisan independent in state history, saw his early advantage evaporate against termed-out lawmaker Ricardo Lara, who now holds a significant edge.

And in the nonpartisan campaign for State Superintendent of Public Instruction, improbably the year’s highest spending race, charter school advocate Marshall Tuck slowly circled the drain, as teachers union favorite and termed-out assemblymember Tony Thurmond kept gaining with more votes from L.A. County – where nearly one million remain uncounted – to erase Tuck’s initial lead.

TO THE SURPRISE OF NO ONE: From Yreka to San Ysidro, Democrats otherwise stomped candidates carrying the badly damaged California Republican Party banner.

As Dems easily won the six other constitutional offices, and Dianne Feinstein was elected to yet another U.S. Senate term after an all-Dem runoff, they were poised to score supermajorities in both the state Senate and the Assembly, making it easier for Governor-elect Gavin Newsom and free-spending brethren to raise taxes.

So great is Democratic hegemony that perhaps the most surprising story that emerged on Election Day was historic: Newsom is the first member of his party to succeed a fellow Democrat as governor in more than 130 years.

The last guy to achieve the feat was Washington Bartlett, an ex-newspaper publisher who remains the only Jewish governor in California history, and who replaced fellow Dem and celebrated Union General George Stoneman after the election of 1886.

And, no, we didn’t cover that one.