Deconstructing the California Vote

“One of the big factors” influencing the outcome of the Democratic primary “was Hillary’s denunciation of Donald Trump and what a danger and threat he would be to the United States if he were elected,” said Nardo Zacchino, author of “California Comeback: How a Failed State Became a Model for the Nation.”

“There’s no question that the campaigning by both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders just energized people to vote,” said Zacchino. “More than 73 percent of people who are eligible to vote in California registered to vote. Something like 98 percent of the growth in registration took place just in the last 45 days.”

Party primary rules may have influenced the ability of independents – who make up 20% of registered votes in California – to influence the vote. Registering as “no preferred party” allows independents to vote in the Republican primaries, but not the Democratic primaries.

Zacchino expects Jill Stein, who is seeking the nomination for the Green Party, to seek the support of the “young, energized, excited, enthusiastic young people, because her agenda is very similar to” that of the Sanders campaign.

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Story Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.

Well, Tuesday night the California primary was held. It’s now over and most people know the results. Hillary Clinton won by about 13 points, but right up until the last minutes before the votes were being counted it was expected it would be much closer than that. In fact, a lot of people thought it might even be an upset where Sanders might pull off another Michigan.

Well, that’s not what happened, and now to help us answer why, joining us from Los Angeles is Narda Zacchino. Narda’s been a journalist for more than three decades. She was the former associate editor of the Los Angeles Times. She’s been the deputy editor of the San Francisco Chronicle and she’s the author of the upcoming book coming out in August, “California Comeback: How a Failed State Became a Model for the Nation.” Thanks very much for joining us, Narda.

NARDA ZACCHINO: You’re welcome, Paul. Glad to be with you.

JAY: All right, so what happened? Everybody was ready for a sort of edge of your seat contest, and almost right from the beginning of counting votes Clinton had a significant lead and ended up with a pretty significant lead.

ZACCHINO: Right. Well, I think one of the things, one of the factors some people attribute to this, I don’t want to call it an upset because she was probably going to win, but, AP, you know, called her nomination before the polls even opened in California, so some of Bernie’s followers believe that might have dampened the turnout, but it’s likely that she, that there were other factors that just didn’t turn up in the polls.

For example, some pollsters say that Spanish-speaking Latinos, the Latino vote was expected to be much closer but Spanish-speaking Latinos were underrepresented in the poll because they weren’t polled, so that might have been a factor with the Latinos.

She, the turning point in California,I think, seemed to be that speech she gave in San Diego where she really warned about the threat of a Trump presidency and what it would mean for the country and how dangerous it could be, and that seemed to be, get a lot of attention and create a lot of fear among Democrats. Now, I don’t know whether it changed votes, but it did seem to be a turning point.

The other factor, I think, was, she and Bill Clinton campaigned, you know, they had a strenuous campaign trip throughout California. She, in fact, cut her New Jersey campaigning trip short to come to California to add more stops. I mean, I think there was one day I read that she and Bill Clinton had 30 appearances, in one day.

I spoke to a friend who was canvassing for Bernie in Alameda County and he said they had, the Clintons had five appearances in Alameda County that day. So they really blanketed the state, and in fact Alameda County, which is home to Berkley and San Francisco, which tend to be the most liberal bastions in the state, voted, she had an edge over Bernie in both of those places, too. I think it was the strenuous campaigning that helped her a lot.

JAY: Yeah. Anecdotally, what I was hearing from people was, my heart’s with Sanders. I agree with him on policy issues but I’m more convinced that Hillary can beat Trump and that seemed to be the thing that was deciding for a lot of people.

ZACCHINO: Yeah. I mean, I’m not sure that it’s true that she can beat Trump as handily as Bernie could have beaten Trump.

But the other thing, the other factor I want to mention here is the number of absentee ballots that are still out. There are three million votes yet to be counted. I’m not saying that he can overtake her, but I think the margin will be maybe single digits when all the counting is done. There’s a deadline of July 8 for the secretary of state to have all the ballots counted. She only leads him now by 438 thousand votes. I don’t want to say only. That’s a significant number of votes, but with three million outstanding I think he’ll be able to pick up some of that,

And I read, the New York Times had an article about, you know, how absentee voters tend to stack up, and there are a lot of older absentee voters which, I think, she got, Hillary got a lot of those votes. Those were among the votes that were counted yesterday were, they started counting the absentees and she had, like, a huge lead among absentee voters, but also young people and Latinos tend to vote absentee also, so the young people, the young person vote may give him some more–

JAY: –How’d? This is a, California is a state which is, the Democratic Party is extremely powerful [crosstalk] at–

ZACCHINO: [crosstalk]–Ha!–

JAY: –every level of government, which means there’s a, in fact, like Maryland where we are, which means there’s a very powerful Democratic Party machine. I’m assuming most of the machine was in support of Clinton, and if that’s a correct assumption, how did that affect the outcome?

ZACCHINO: Well, I mean, there was a situation where, the parties control the primaries, basically. So, in the Republican primary, if you were registered Libertarian or any other party you could go to the poll and ask for, or no preferred party, which in some states is called decline to state. In California that’s a very large number.

Let me just digress by saying that the Democratic registration in California is about 45 percent. The Republican registration is 27 percent. But the no preferred party or decline to state is 23 percent, so it’s a pretty large chunk of the voters. So, if you were not a Republican and you wanted to vote in the Republican primary you could just ask for a ballot and you could have voted for Trump.

Now, that wasn’t as important as it would have been in the Democratic primary if, you know, Bernie did a lot of campaigning on college campuses and with young people in the closing days of the campaign. California Democratic Party has a rule that unless you are a no preferred party registrant you cannot ask for a Democratic ballot. So, the Peace and Freedom people, the Green Party people, they could not ask to vote in the Democratic primary if they were registered in those other parties.

So, you know, if they had registered, if they had changed their registration 25 days before the election they could have voted Democrat.

JAY: What’s the history of that rule? Why is that in place?

ZACCHINO: You know, I’m not clear. I don’t know when that started. I know that, you know, of course nationally, after the big defeat of McGovern the party got more involved in trying to control these things. That’s where the superdelegates came from, et cetera. So I, Bernie’s people, some followers of Bernie, not Bernie Sanders himself but some followers of his sued California to, in the closing days to overturn that rule, but they lost in court, so it wasn’t–

I will say this about–The Bernie effect was amazing in California. More than 73 percent of people who are eligible to vote in California registered to vote. Now something like 98 percent of the growth in registration took place just in the last 45 days. There’s no question that the campaigning by both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders just energized people to vote. It’s almost 18 million people who are registered to vote in California now.

And of those 18 million, by the way, in the last surge 76 percent of the new voters registered Democratic. You know, there has not been–You talk about the power of the Democratic Party in California. There’s not been a Republican presidential candidate who has won California in 25 years. We also have the situation where we have a situation where the two top vote getters in the primary are the ones who face off in the general regardless of party, so we have Loretta Sanchez and we have Kamala Harris who are both Democrats who are going to run for the Senate seat in California in the general election.

You have a few districts, you know, for Congress, that are in entrenched Republican areas like the central part of California, the Farm Belt, et cetera, where you’ll end up with a Republican facing a Republican.

JAY: Sanders’ candidacy and his differences with Clinton are, at least in my opinion, far more profound than normal differences amongst Democratic Party candidates. This was not just about personality and it wasn’t about minor differences in policy. At least on the face of it Sanders is condemning the billionaire class and calling for reforms that would more seriously challenge that power, whereas Hillary’s clearly, in terms of how she gets financed and her policies are certainly, you know, within the normal limits of corporate Democratic Party policy.

ZACCHINO: Right.

JAY: This upsurge of support for Sanders, is it going to affect California politics at the, you know, state and local level? Has this campaign changed things in California?

ZACCHINO: I hope so. I mean, I hope that especially young people aren’t disillusioned by, you know, their support for Bernie and then having him not win and, but, I think that if there is, but that’s sort of going to be up to Bernie Sanders, I think.

Also, I want to say that Jill Stein is a, I think she’s going to step into the picture in a bigger–

JAY: –Jill Stein who’s heading up the Green Party–

ZACCHINO: –Yes, that’s right. And I think that she, I actually talked with her last night and I think that she’s going to try to take advantage of this group, especially of young, energized, excited, enthusiastic young people to, because her agenda is very similar to Bernie Sanders’ agenda, you know. And she, it’s much more similar to his than to Hillary’s

JAY: And you would think California’s fertile ground, because it’s not a place that’s going to vote for Donald Trump anyway, so it’s one of the states where there could be real Green Party growth.

ZACCHINO: Yes, it’s truly a solid blue state. She, Hillary campaigned among the moderate Democrats in the central valley. I’m not sure how much time Bernie spent there, but she campaigned there. She campaigned among Asian Americans who do sometimes tend to vote Republican in California, and I think she secured those votes, moderate Democrats, of course, and Asian Americans.

But yeah, it’s true. California, you know know, this all happened after and during the governorship of Pete Wilson when he supported Proposition 187 which was, had draconian, would have had a draconian effect on Latinos in this state. They couldn’t go to public school if they were undocumented. They couldn’t get health care if they were undocumented. They couldn’t get jobs. Of course they already couldn’t get public assistance. That’s a myth that some people think they can. But the idea of all these undocumented kids not being able to go to school and families not getting medical care.

Yet the voters of California, because the governor supported it, voted for it and it was thrown out in the courts. It never took effect. But it had a tremendous impact on Latinos in California and on liberals, and it just totally decimated the Republican Party in California. From then on, even–I just finished this book on California that you mentioned and I looked at the Republican Party in California and there have been a lot of defections among people who were, you know, worked for the party, and those who are still in the party in California, political leaders, et cetera, tend to be much more moderate. They’re certainly not in the Trump camp at all.

But I do think that, as I said at the beginning of this interview, one of the big factors was Hillary’s denunciation of Donald Trump and what a danger and threat he would be to the united states if he were elected.

JAY: Right. All right, thanks very much for joining us, Narda.

ZACCHINO: You’re welcome. Thank you, Paul.

JAY: Thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.

End

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