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In the past couple of days, I’ve presented two articles on critical primary races in Orange County. The theme has been: “looks (at percentages in the primaries) can be deceiving.” Today, I look at AD-65 — the race between Chris Norby and Sharon Quirk-Silva — and that lesson comes through extremely clearly.
On Wednesday, I noted that Jay Chen did a lot better than his 30% showing would suggest because Ed Royce spent $2,000,000 to Chen’s $60,000 in the CA-39 primary in an attempt to show the world that he had nothing to fear from Jay Chen by demonstrating that he was completely terrified. No one spends 33 times more than their opponent on a primary out of confidence, especially if it leaves one with a warchest of only five times that opponent — and when that opponent will do the things in the runoff (such as send out a slew of mailers) that he didn’t need to do in the primary.
On Thursday, I noted that Julio Perez still has a decent chance of making the runoff in AD-69 because the ballots that will be counted last — provisional ballots, such as from apartment dwellers who have moved within the district — will favor him tremendously over his Republican opponent Joe Moreno. Perez may not make the runoff — although, if he does, he will consolidate Latino support and win — but if he does it will be thanks to the wealthy idiots from outside the district telling Republicans to vote for Tom Daly rather than for Moreno, lowering the hurdle that Perez has to clear. (Irony can be so delicious!)
Today, I turn my eyes to AD-65, where Fullerton Mayor Sharon Quirk-Silva is taking on semi-incumbent Chris Norby. (More on that “semi” part in a moment.) And, what do you know, there is a huge reason to discount that result as well. Turnout in the most conservative portion of her district — the City of Fullerton — was massively inflated by the Fullerton Recall, and especially by conservative/libertarian voters. Turnout in the other 2/3 of the district was not inflated at all.
In a Presidential Election year, turnout will be big all over the place — Norby’s advantage in the city that you see in the primary won’t be nearly as great. (Bigger turnout generally means more Democrats.) That smaller advantage will be outweighed by lots more votes in the relatively less conservative and far less libertarian portion of the district, which those of us in the area know as “South of the Freeways.”
Time to look at a map!
Chris Norby currently, under the pre-redistricting maps, represents all of North Orange County (except Buena Park!) from La Habra to Yorba Linda and part of Placentia. In the new maps, most of that territory (except Fullerton) is in AD-55. In AD-65, Fullerton is instead joined to Buena Park and the rest of “South of the Freeways.” The district is about 1/3 Fullerton and 2/3 “south of the freeways” — that is, SR-91 for the eastern part of the district and I-5 for the western part.
(Skip this paragraph unless you don’t mind a technical clarification: about 30% of Buena Park is, like all but a few square yards of Fullerton, actually north of the freeways. This part of Buena Park is a lot more like the adjacent sections of Fullerton than like southern parts of Buena Park. However, the northern “Los Coyotes” part it is adjacent to wealthier Northwest Fullerton, and the rest of it is adjacent to more working-class Southwest Fullerton, so it’s hard to generalize. For the purposes of this article, I’m just going to consider all parts of the district north of the I-5 to be “Fullerton,” expanding the population of the city from 135,000 to 150,000. I promise that I’ll put it back when I’m done with it.)
The critical thing to know about AD-65 is that Fullerton, due to the Recall, had a lot more reason to come out to vote in what was generally a low-turnout election than did the “South of the Freeways” region. Fullerton will probably have higher turnout than the rest of the district in November as well — wealthier areas generally do — but by nowhere near the same proportion. And that is why everyone — including the candidates — has to take the primary election results with a huge grain of salt.
For one thing, Fullerton will be a different environment in the fall, where insurgent voters will not be attacking an existing city administration, but instead wrestling with the same sorts of issues (and disaffection) that we see in Costa Mesa. (“Hey, we’re refunding your water tax!” will be offset by the likes of “Oh, and the city’s broke. If you want to fix potholes, show up behind City Hall with a bucket; we’re ladling out tar.” I exaggerate here — but I’m not sure by how much!)
In other words, in the primary, Norby’s vote was inflated by Tony Bushala. In the runoff, Quirk-Silva’s vote will be inflated by Barack Obama. (If I don’t miss my guess, it will also be inflated by Travis Kiger, but that’s an article for next week or so.)
As a candidate for State Senate in this area myself, I can’t wait to see the breakdown in voting results for the just-completed primary election by city and precinct. But I doubt that I’m anywhere near as eager to see them as Quirk-Silva and her team are. For her, those breakdowns are going to be a lot more interesting than the bottom line numbers themselves.
For Democrats, the “South of the Freeways” part of AD-65 has been some of the most potentially fertile, but as yet largely unmined, territories for Democrats. That is about to change. It will change partly because CA-39 Jay Chen will devote Democratic resources to all-but-southern Buena Park that the area hasn’t seen before. But it will mostly change because of three other candidates whose territory overlaps this district — and who know that it needs resources to build it up into the Democratic bastion that it can be.
And who are those Democratic candidates running in this area whose efforts to register and turnout voters will help bring out the Democratic vote in November?
Well, here’s a hint: neither of them is Democratic State Senate candidate Greg Diamond, author of this very article, who is taking on foreigner to the area Bob Huff. No, we’re talking about a trio of more experienced and better funded politicians: Alan Lowenthal, Loretta Sanchez, and Linda Sanchez.
Loretta Sanchez’s CA-46 includes the West Anaheim area of “South of the Freeways”; she has already opened up an office near Euclid and Lincoln that is, pointedly, in Quirk-Silva’s part of the district rather than in the part to be contested by Tom Daly and an opponent to be determined. Linda Sanchez‘s CA-38 almost entirely Los Angeles County district includes La Palma — and being in a safe seat, is it probably reasonable to think that Linda — now that she’s partially in OC, are we just going to call her “Linda,” like we call her sister “Loretta”? — Sanchez will give La Palma a disproportionate amount of Democratic voter turnout attention.
But Anaheim and La Palma aside, the major contributor to Democratic turnout in “South of the Freeways” will be Lowenthal. Lowenthal has about 100,000 people in the district in Cypress, Stanton, and souther Buena Park — areas ripe for Democratic picking. The Long Beach State Senator is going to be in a tough race with Long Beach City Councilperson Gary DeLong and he needs as many votes out of these working class and middle-class areas as possible.
And who will benefit from Lowenthal’s determination to turn out Democrats? State Senate candidate Greg Diamond, that’s who! But — much more importantly — so will Assembly candidate Sharon Quirk-Silva.
Now you might be asking — won’t Gary DeLong be doing the same thing on the Republican side? Sure — he’ll try. But Republican turnout is already about as high as it’s going to get in these areas. (Relatively poor and Democratic registration majority Stanton has an all-Republican City Council. Guess who is, and who isn’t, doing most of the voting.) DeLong’s effect, which will admittedly help Norby some, will be at the margins. Every dollar spent by Lowenthal will have a much larger effect, because there’s so much to be gained here.
This portion of Orange County — stretching from La Palma and Cypress through southern Buena Park and Stanton to Western Anaheim almost as far as Disneyland — doesn’t really even have a name. It’s not North Orange County; it’s not the western part of the libertarian coastal area that begins with Los Alamitos and Seal Beach and hits critical mass in Huntington and Newport. I suppose that we can start calling it the “West Central” area — maybe someday it will be “the Westside.” But it is the key for Democrats in transforming Orange County politics.
“South of the Freeways” — sorry, I mean “West Central” — is stolidly middle class area (of a type commonly congenial to Democrats) to its west and turns into a working-class Democratic-enthusiastic to the east. This is possibly the main area that Democrats have had to organize to build up the party’s strength in the county. And now, thanks to redistricting, it looks possible.
Let’s put aside the merits of the party’s State Senate candidate and just look at the candidates for federal office in this area: Loretta Sanchez, Linda Sanchez, Alan Lowenthal, Jay Chen. Now add a powerful and experienced State Assembly candidate in the person of Sharon Quirk-Silva. Now take away the bump from the Fullerton recall and add the stomach-ache the Bushala folks will cause when they actually try to govern.
Sharon Quirk-Silva will hold her own in Fullerton in November — but she doesn’t have to win it. She’s going to win this race south of the freeways — in West Central Orange County.