March 2024 Primary Election Wrap-Up

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I encourage you to listen to the election wrap-up episode of Mike Bonin’s What Next, LA? podcast for a detailed discussion of every major race in the region. My analysis here will focus mostly on Culver City.

The top story for LA is that, despite having had her district redrawn to gerrymander her supporters and facing a well-funded astroturf operation, Nithya Raman was re-elected. She received over 50% of the votes cast, so she wins outright, without a runoff in November. As Bonin wrote in The Nation, Raman’s first campaign was the prototype of a new LA politics, based on organizing renters and other underrepresented communities. In last month’s newsletter I drew parallels between the backlash Raman faced from LA’s business establishment and what Culver City progressives experienced in 2022. Her victory can inspire us.

The only Culver City item on the primary ballot was Measure E, a school facilities bond, which this Club supported. It passed easily, getting 62% of the votes cast. This also can give us hope for November. Voters seem to have seen through its opponentsbluster. All five School Board members supported Measure E, as did Mayor Yasmine-Imani McMorrin and City Council Members Freddy Puza and Dan O’Brien. Council Member Göran Eriksson was against it, and Albert Vera Jr. did not take a public position. Culver City Democrats United also did not take an official position, but their newsletter published several pieces urging a “no” vote and two of their officers signed the official argument against it. Measure E’s decisive victory is both a positive sign and a gift for progressives, if voters hold School Board and City Council candidates accountable in November for their positions on this measure. 

For our district’s seven seats on the LA County Democratic Party’s Central Committee, the Club’s endorsed candidates: Freddy Puza, myself, and Leah Pressman, took the top three spots in Culver City, but respectively finished 13th, 10th, and 11th in the district as a whole. For comparison, CCDU’s endorsees Jimmie Woods-Grey, Lindsay Carlson, Darrel Menthe, and Joe Rose were respectively 9th, 10th, 15th, and 16th in Culver City and 4th, 12th, 15th, and 16th in the district. Congratulations to our members Jimmie Woods-Grey, Vilma Dawson, Pam Sparrow, Ilissa Gold, and Sara Roos on being elected to LACDP.

Judicial elections can help gauge the effect of our mailer, since it may be the only printed material local voters get for these races. Our four endorsees fared quite well, with three advancing to a runoff and one winning outright with over 50%.

• For Office 39 George Turner was the top vote-getter, with 42% in Culver City and 32% countywide. He will be in a November runoff.

• For Office 48 Erika Wiley was also the top vote-getter, with 59% in Culver City and 47% countywide. Because she did not break 50% countywide, she too will be in a runoff.

• For Office 97 La Shae Henderson finished second, with 35% in Culver City, and 27% countywide. She will face the first-place candidate in a runoff.

• For Office 124 Kim Repecka won with 64% in Culver City and 51% countywide. Congratulations Judge Repecka!

These candidates did eight to thirteen percentage points better in Culver City than countywide. This may reflect that Culver City is a more progressive community than the county as a whole and may also show the influence of our mailer. Both can be sources of hope and pride.

We can also be proud that the video of our December General Meeting program, featuring most of the Democrats on the March ballot, from Congress Member Sydney Kamlager on down, has been viewed over 3500 times and was linked from some voter guides. It may have been voters’ only chance to see some of these candidates speaking on camera outside of a campaign ad, or at all.

We endorsed District Attorney George Gascón for re-election, and he came in first with 38% of the vote in Culver City and 25% countywide, ahead of a pack of more conservative challengers (and, on his left, former Hustler features editor Dan Kapelovitz). CCDU-backed scion Jeff Chemerinsky came in third in Culver City with 12% and fifth in the county with 8%. In Culver City, Jonathan Hatami, endorsed by the alt-right Protect Culver City PAC, took second with 13% and came in third countywide with the same percentage. Kapelovitz, who appears to have a good sense of humor, was last in both jurisdictions, under 1% in Culver City and just over it in the county. 

I think this Club can take some credit for Gascón’s local popularity. We co-hosted a fundraiser for him and he has been a featured guest at our meetings. I know he did not expect to win outright and was hoping to face a Republican in the fall, a wish granted when Nathan Hochman took second place countywide with 16% (12% in Culver City).

The US Senate race was complex this year, with three serious Democrats and one Republican (Steve Garvey) competing in parallel elections for a new term beginning next January and for the few weeks of the late Diane Feinstein’s term between the November election and the new legislative session. We endorsed Barbara Lee.

For the full term, the results in Culver City were:

Adam Schiff (46%), Katie Porter (18%), Steve Garvey (16%), and Barbara Lee (14%).

In LA County they were:

Schiff (37%), Garvey (24%), Porter (16%), and Lee (11%),

while statewide, which are the only numbers that really matter, they were:

Schiff (32%), Garvey (31%), Porter (15%), and Lee (10%).

The Culver City numbers for the partial term were:

Schiff (42%), Porter (23%), Garvey (16%), and Lee (15%).

The county ones were:

Schiff (34%), Garvey (26%), Porter (18%), and Lee (13%),

and the statewide ones:

Garvey (33%), Schiff (29%), Porter (17%), and Lee (12%)

That’s a lot of data. It’s clear that Culver City has a smaller percentage of Republicans than the larger territories, and that the Lee campaign had trouble getting traction. She faced obstacles as the oldest and shortest candidate, as well as the only person of color and the candidate who has spent the least time sitting across from Stephen Colbert. I do not regret supporting her and I am grateful that I had a chance to meet her and thank her for her work. As with Bernie Sanders, every time the US has done something wrong in the last 50 years, there’s a video of Barbara Lee trying to stop it.

There was talk before and during the campaign that either Porter or Lee should have dropped out, so that progressives could have united behind one candidate. However, the sum of their votes would not have  made second place statewide for either term, but a hypothetically united progressive campaign might have challenged Schiff more strongly or inspired higher turnout.

This is the usual “Dems in Disarray” narrative and speculation. I have two other observations about this race, which I fear has put me in a darker place. First, all three candidates left their House seats to run. Barbara Lee’s endorsed successor Lateefah Simon got over 56% of the vote in March and will sail to victory in November. Democratic State Assembly Member Laura Friedman will almost certainly be the next to represent Schiff’s remarkable district, which stretches from West Hollywood to Burbank to Tujunga. In contrast, Porter’s 2022 Republican opponent took first place in the March election to replace her, and the Democrat who came in second faces a tough and ugly fight. With the Republican-controlled House going through Speakers like Spinal Tap went through drummers, and the Freedom Caucus seeming to threaten a government shutdown over every piece of business, Porter’s choice to leave her seat without having a strong successor in place seems irresponsible.

Even worse was Schiff’s decision to spend more to boost Garvey than Garvey’s own campaign. Like Gascón, Schiff understood that running against a Republican would be much easier than running against another Democrat. The Republican brand is repulsive to most Californians, especially since Trump, and Garvey is a weak candidate, too clueless to appeal to Schwarzenegger Democrats and not bloodthirsty enough for today’s MAGA-GOP. He only raised $300,000 for his statewide campaign, around half of what billionaire landlord/developer Michael Hackman spent just to elect Dan O’Brien to our City Council. Adam Schiff, by comparison, had $35 million. Schiff’s campaign created mailers which Democrats would read as negative, listing Garvey’s conservative bona fides, but then sent them to likely Republican voters who would read them as positive and turn out to vote for Garvey, putting him in second place for Schiff to crush in November. Sneaky, but more Tracy Flick than Roger Stone until you consider that those Republicans who Schiff inspired to step up to the plate for Garvey also voted Republican in all the down-ballot races, putting Democratic House seats and local offices at risk. Our Party’s establishment is quick to attack progressives who primary incumbents or who challenge the establishment’s chosen candidates, arguing these fights waste resources that could be used against Republicans, but Adam Schiff essentially ran a Republican Get Out The Vote operation with no objections from our Party leadership. I will vote for Schiff this fall, and I recommend that you do so as well, but his victory will not spark joy.