Bianca Bruno contributed to this report from San Diego; Nathan Solis from Orange and Los Angeles counties; Paul Roupe from Fresno County; Nick Cahill from Sacramento; and Nicholas Iovino from San Francisco.
(CN) – Political strategists, congressional candidates nationwide and President Donald Trump are watching closely Tuesday for signs of the forecast “blue wave” as millions of Californians cast their primary ballots.
Democrats went on the hunt to flip several key congressional seats from red to blue, buoyed in large part by the Golden State’s continued and marked disapproval of President Donald Trump’s policies and decisions.
Nationally, Democrats need to pick up 24 seats in November to take control of the House. The minority party hopes to take Republican seats in at least seven California districts won by Hillary Clinton in 2016.
In northern San Diego, where the Republican incumbent Rep. Darrell Issa is retiring, results for the hotly contested 49th District will likely not be finalized for days.
A poll by Roll Call this past Friday put Democrat Mike Levin in the lead with 17 percent of the vote. But another by The San Diego Union-Tribune and Channel 10 News put Republican Diane Harkey ahead at 24 percent of the vote and three Democrats – Levin, Doug Applegate and Sara Jacobs – tied for second place.
Issa won re-election in 2016 by the narrowest margin of any congressional race – less than 1 percent of the vote. He announced his retirement at the beginning of the year.
California instituted a top-two or “jungle primary” system in 2011, allowing the top two vote-getting candidates, regardless of party, to advance to the general election in November. If two Republican candidates advance in the 49th and other congressional districts, it would likely crush Democrats’ hopes of overtaking the House.
Just a few hundred feet from Issa’s office, voters gathered to vote for his replacement.
Robin Johnson said that while she is registered as an independent, she leans “heavily Democratic” but is concerned with polarization on both sides of the political spectrum.
“I’m mostly centrist and entirely pragmatic and want to get things done,” Johnson said.
Johnson said she voted for Doug Applegate – who narrowly lost to Issa in the 2016 election – but said she believes state Assemblyman Rocky Chavez, also a veteran, would be a good fit in D.C.
Volunteers with Flip the 49th gathered Tuesday night in celebration of their work to turn Issa’s district blue.
Misty O’ Healy, an organizer of the “Resist Trump Tuesday” protests held weekly at Issa’s Vista office for over a year said she got heavily involved in opposing President Donald Trump’s agenda “to save our democracy.”
“When Trump got elected, it was a matter of never allowing him to be normal,” O’Healy said.
“When the kids in our lives ask us, ‘What did you do during the Trump years?’ we can say we were on the side of justice and what is right.”
O’Healy helped to bring over a dozen volunteers from Democratic strongholds in Northern California, including Sonoma and San Francisco, to help with voter canvassing efforts in District 49 over the weekend.
Christine Wei is one of them.
She came down from San Francisco to do neighborhood canvassing, phone banking and data entry for Flip the 49th. Wei said she became politically engaged after the 2016 election and was “looking for a way to channel rage and despair.”
She said she was impressed by the energy and organization by political activists in District 49.
“There’s urgency. Whether we get the numbers in the House this year will have a deep impact on getting things done at the federal level,” Wei said.
Flip the 49th campaign manager Johnny Papagiannis said nearly 2,000 volunteers logged hours for the PAC, which took an unorthodox approach in not endorsing any candidates but focused simply on turning the district Democratic.
“I’ve never seen anything quite like what’s happening out here. Whatever the result of the primary is, there is a lasting community here to take up other issues,” Papagiannis said.
Along the coast in the sleepy beach town of Encinitas, volunteers with Flip the 49th, a PAC created to flip the 49th district blue, rang doorbells and knocked on doors in a last-ditch effort to get voters to the polls.
Michelle Burrascano, who started canvassing in 2016 to repeal the death penalty, said her experiences talking to voters have been mostly positive.
“I don’t use social media, but I’ve heard it can be awful. But when you meet people, they are quite decent,” Burrascano said after ringing the doorbell for a woman who said “I’m a big Trump supporter, you’re at the wrong house.”
Farther north on Interstate 5, Democrats in Orange and Los Angeles counties are also on the hunt to fill open sets created by Republican exits in traditionally red districts.
One exit is U.S. Rep. Edward Royce, whose district spans parts of three counties. The national Democratic Party listed Royce as a weak candidate that could be unseated, and his retirement has resulted in a crowded race. Voters had to choose from six Democrats, seven Republicans and four independent candidates on Tuesday’s ballot.
GOP frontrunners include Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson, former state Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff and former Assemblywoman Young Kim, who received the endorsement of Rep. Mimi Walters from the nearby 45th District. The main Democratic challenger is Gil Cisneros, who gained the endorsement of several House members and businessman Andy Thorburn, who’s running to flip the 39th District.
Brea resident Richard Sinquimani said he was glad to see Royce step down and voted against any candidate fond of Trump’s policies, including tax breaks for billionaires.
“Because when do the lies from this administration stop?” Sinquimani asked outside his polling place.
Election Day did not go as planned for many in Los Angeles County, where the county registrar’s office said 118,522 names were omitted from voting rosters throughout the county. In all, 1,530 precincts were affected by what’s being called a printing issue.
“Our office is committed to ensuring every voter has a positive voting experience on Election Day,” said Registrar-Recorder and County Clerk Dean C. Logan. “We apologize for the inconvenience and concern this has caused. Voters should be assured their vote will be counted.”
Californians are also trimming down California’s gubernatorial candidates.
With all polls putting current Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, well in the lead, the focus has turned to the fight for second place.
Republicans desperately want a gubernatorial candidate on the November ballot, worried that an all-Democrat runoff will cause conservative voters to sit out of down-ballot races. Trump again tried to rally Republicans, tweeting support for Republican businessman John Cox.
“In High Tax, High Crime California, be sure to get out and vote for Republican John Cox for Governor. He will make a BIG difference!” Trump tweeted.
Democrats Antonio Villaraigosa, former LA mayor, and state treasurer John Chiang trailed Newsom and Cox in recent polls.
A couple hundred miles north in California’s agricultural heartland, incumbent Rep. Devin Nunes, R –Fresno, faces competition from Democrats targeting the Trump ally’s long-held post.
At the First Baptist Church of Clovis, voters turned out in large numbers. Some hope to give Nunes the boot.
“I want him out,” said Ben Zurita of Clovis. “Over the past year he’s proven that he’s an idiot. Everything that he did with his supposed ‘investigation,’ and calling a press conference and saying that he’s going to give information to the president…it’s all suspect. Something isn’t right.”
But Democrats face a tall order in unseating Nunes, who won the last three general elections by an average of 34 points. He was also given some last-minute support by Trump.
“Vote for Congressman Devin Nunes, a true American Patriot the likes of which we rarely see in our modern day world….he truly loves our country and deserves everyone’s support!,” Trump tweeted early Tuesday.
Clovis resident Steve Morgan said he’s standing by Nunes.
“[Democrats] are trying to smear him, but he’s a Republican and he’s helping a Republican president. He’s done what he said he was going to do and they don’t like it,” Morgan said after voting.
Voters in California’s capital said they were skeptical of the top-two primary system, which is being used for the first time with an open governor’s seat.
“I’m not sure there is enough groundswell to get a Republican through to November,” said Sacramento resident and teacher Ricardo Abascal, 36. “If there isn’t a Republican, I know some won’t bother to vote.”
Ron Nehring, a Republican consultant who was national spokesman for Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign, says California should ditch the top-two primary. He called it an “unmitigated disaster” Tuesday morning.
“The system begs for manipulation, denies voters meaningful choices, and creates powerful incentives for insiders to discourage candidates from running. The few remaining defenders of this system should hang it up,” Nehring tweeted.
In Democratic stronghold San Francisco, candidates vying to replace the late Mayor Ed Lee delivered their final pitches to voters Tuesday.
Mayoral candidate and Board of Supervisors President London Breed stopped by the annual Election Day luncheon hosted by former Mayor Willie Brown at the 110-year-old restaurant John’s Grill. Breed shook hands and voiced her support for building more housing in a city plagued with skyrocketing rents and rising homelessness.
“Everybody wants to be able to afford to live here,” Breed said.
The candidate urged voters to support Proposition D, a local ballot measure that would increase taxes on commercial rents to fund housing and homelessness services.
If elected, Breed would become the first black woman elected to lead the city.
Former state senator and mayoral candidate Mark Leno also made an appearance Tuesday at the Election Day luncheon, where he talked about his ambitious plan to end homelessness in San Francisco by 2020.
Leno said he would not have proposed the plan if he didn’t think the goal was attainable.
“You have to shoot high,” Leno said. “The status quo is not working.”
Leno said he wants to turn 1,500 single-room occupancy units into permanent, supportive housing and make mental health services available to every person in San Francisco.
If elected, Leno would become San Francisco’s first openly gay mayor.
Along with choosing a new governor to replace Gov. Jerry Brown, voters are whittling down the U.S. Senate choices.
Incumbent Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat first elected in 1992 and seeking a fifth full term, was quickly declared winner of the primary just 30 minutes after polls closed. Feinstein, 84, raised $13 million more than any other candidate and was endorsed by Brown.
Fellow Democrat Kevin de Leon, former leader of the state Senate, was locked in a tight race for second place Monday night with relative-unknown Republican candidate James Bradley. De Leon is hoping to make it an all-Democrat race for U.S. Senate for the second straight election.