An inewsource analysis of preliminary election results from last Tuesday’s primary in the 52nd congressional district shows a sizable turnout gap between Democratic and Republican strongholds.
In precincts where incumbent Democratic congressman Scott Peters won a majority of votes, turnout was just 20 percent. In precincts where his three GOP challengers won a majority, turnout was 27 percent.
In the 2012 primary, the turnout gap was narrower, with precincts in which Republicans won a majority voting at a 46 percent turnout and precincts in which Democrats won a majority turning out at a 40 percent clip.
That primary saw a competitive Democratic race between Peters and former state assemblywoman Lori Saldana. Incumbent Republican Brian Bilbray–whom Peters would narrowly defeat in that fall’s general election–faced only token opposition.
Thad Kousser, a professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego, says the disparities in turnout between Democratic and Republican precincts makes sense.
“It fits the general trend which is the lower the turnout goes, the more Republican skewed the turnout is,” Kousser said, pointing to good Republican showings across the state last week.
And while Kousser cautioned that the heavy GOP tilt of last week’s primary electorate likely won’t be as pronounced come November, he said Peters should be concerned about turning out his base.
“I think he absolutely has to be worried about turnout and working on turnout,” said Kousser. “He can’t just slide by on Obama’s coattails this time.”
Attracting the Jorgensen vote
Peters won 42 percent of the vote Tuesday. Republican Carl DeMaio, who lost the 2012 San Diego mayor’s race to Bob Filner, received 35 percent. Kirk Jorgensen and Fred Simon, Republicans who ran to DeMaio’s right, received 18 and four percent, respectively.
MaryAnne Pintar, campaign manager for Peters’ reelection bid, said that given the low Democratic turnout, it was DeMaio’s primary performance that was disappointing.
“He [DeMaio] ran against two candidates who had never even set foot on the political stage before and they took about 23 percent of votes away from him,” Pintar said, referring to Jorgensen and Simon.
Simon’s support was spread out across conservative areas of the district but Jorgensen did have concentrated pockets of support. The former marine officer took more votes than any other candidate in 14 precincts. He outpolled DeMaio in 27 precincts–about seven percent of the precincts that cast votes.
Attracting those voters will be key to any DeMaio victory in the fall. And the good news for DeMaio, says Kousser, is voters who showed up in the primary are probably going to show up in the general.
“Anybody who turned out in this record-setting low turnout election, all of those voters are going to show up in November,” Kousser said.
But DeMaio has run a campaign that has eschewed traditional Republican orthodoxy on social issues like abortion and gay marriage. Might these conservative Republicans show up in November and elect to pass on the race in the 52nd?
Probably not, says Kousser.
Ultimately, DeMaio is no more liberal than Peters on social issues and so the race will come down to fiscal policy.
“Social conservatives in America today are generally fiscal conservatives and I think Carl DeMaio will absolutely be trying to make the case that he’s more fiscally conservative than Scott Peters,” Kousser said.
Dave McCulloch, communications director for DeMaio’s campaign, said that his candidate is focused on attracting independents.
“Our focus remains on the independents who are a large percentage of the population in the 52nd and those people are really sick of both parties,” McCulloch said. “That’s kind of the campaign that Carl’s continued to run on–a message of reform.”
McCulloch asserted that most independent voters backed DeMaio in the primary but declined to say whether internal polling supported that assertion. He also declined to say whether the campaign was concerned about losing Jorgensen voters by playing up DeMaio’s moderate image.
Bright spots for both candidates
Vince Vasquez, a senior policy analyst with the National University System Institute for Policy Research, said both DeMaio and Peters can find things to like in the last week’s numbers.
“I think both of them have reasons to be upbeat about the general election,” Vasquez said.
For Peters, he held his own in an election which likely saw minimal Democratic turnout.
“Even with this low voter turnout election, he still was able to get 42 percent of the vote.”
He also noted that Peters did well in important battleground precincts like those in Pacific Beach, La Jolla and downtown.
And DeMaio can be pleased with the strong turnout by Republicans, even if they didn’t all vote for him.
“Given the choice between Peters and DeMaio, the overwhelming majority of Republican voters in that core are going to come over to his [DeMaio’s] side,” said Vasquez, citing the overwhelming GOP support previous moderate California Republicans such as former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger were able to count on in general elections.
For Peters, motivating his base will be a challenge but he’s shown competitiveness even in Republican-leaning parts of the district. The first-term Democrat, who has played up his moderate image, received a plurality of votes–more than any single candidate but still less than a majority–in 60 percent of precincts in which the three GOP candidates combined to win a majority of votes.
In all, Peters won majorities in 87 precincts–24 percent of precincts casting ballots–while his Republican foes combined to win majorities in 277 precincts–75 percent of precincts casting ballots. In four precincts, Peters and the three Republicans received an equal number of votes.
Peters received more votes than any single candidate in 257 precincts–70 percent, DeMaio in 94 precincts–25 percent, Jorgensen in 14 precincts–four percent and there was a tie in three precincts.
The Peters campaign is not in denial about the poor national climate for Democrats, but they believe their candidate can overcome it.
While declining to discuss specifics of the campaign’s get-out-the-vote strategy, Pintar said the campaign is prepared for 2014’s political headwinds.
“We know it’s going to be a tougher electorate than 2012. That’s not a surprise to us and we are fully prepared to tackle that,” Pintar said.