California exceptionalism: Kamala Harris makes it a clean Democratic sweep!

by Russell's Rants

Originally published November 25, 2010


With Kamala Harris’s apparent election victory over Steve Cooley for Attorney General, Democrats have won every state-wide race in California – from Insurance Commissioner to U.S. Senator. How did California Democrats buck the national trend toward Republicans in these mid-terms? The answer, at least in part, has to be attributed to the Tea Party and its reactionary politics. The Tea Party got out the vote for those opposed to its ultra-conservative views, especially on immigration and race. While voting trends nationally saw a decrease in Democratic voting blocks, California actually saw a surge of Latino and African American voters. Californians displayed their cosmopolitan exceptionalism, voting in favor of respectful pluralism and against the perceived excesses of the Tea Party. Essentially, California voted to purposefully separate itself from the rest of the country.

According to an analysis of the 2010 mid-term elections by Project Vote (, at the national level, the voters that put Barack Obama in the White House back in 2008 stayed home. “Measured against turnout in the 2008 presidential election, where traditionally under-represented groups expanded their voting participation, drop-off in voting this year was higher for African Americans (a 43 percent decline), Latinos (40 percent), and youth (55 percent), than for whites (30 percent), and senior citizens (12 percent).”

But not in California. In comparison to the last mid-term election, Project Vote tells us that “the number of ballots cast for highest office in California increased by a whopping 19 percent over 2006 levels, with ballots cast by African Americans almost doubling to boost the African American share of the statewide electorate from four to nine percent. The total number of ballots cast by Latinos increased by nearly 40 percent, while the rate of growth in ballots cast by whites was below the statewide average at 10 percent.” The issues of most importance to California voters remained jobs and the economy, just like voters everywhere. The difference in this state is that the voters weren’t buying what the Tea Party was selling. To the contrary, they were reacting to a Tea Party platform wanting to “Take Our Country Back” to a place to which it didn’t wish to return.

The normal Pavlovian impulse of voters in bad economic times is to “throw the bums out.” Nationally, this apparently meant the Democrats. In California, the sitting Governator is a Republican. But the rest of the state was, and will continue to be, dominated by the Democrats. As Carly Fiorina’s self-financed television ads constantly reminded us, Barbara Boxer has been in Washington for 28 years. Boxer was clearly the incumbent, but she walloped Fiorina – 52% to 43%. Indeed, among the quarter of the population that strongly opposes the Tea Party movement, 91% voted for Boxer.

One theory as to why Joe Sestak’s Pennsylvania run for Senate had a fighting chance was the cross-over effect of tea partier, and sometimes witch, Christine O’Donnell’s senate campaign in Delaware. Philadelphia shares a media market with Delaware and its electorate was able to observe her wackiness first-hand. While O’Donnell didn’t propel Sestak to victory, he did overwhelmingly win Philadelphia! The debate in Arizona over the anti-immigrant, “papers please” Senate Bill 1070 may have had a similar spill-over effect on its western neighbor.

In California, the electorate separated itself from the national trend. Democratic constituencies turned out in force and took every state-wide office. The Tea Party had an effect on the California election, just the opposite of what the Tea Partiers expected.