California’s unusual election system probably won’t determine which party controls the House of Representatives next year after all.
Democrats on Tuesday night seemed poised to advance to the general election in every competitive House battleground in the state, easing fears that a glut of candidates would lock the party out of crucial pickup opportunities in its quest for the majority. Republicans had their own cause for relief: With a late push from President Trump, the GOP gubernatorial candidate John Cox secured a place on the November ballot and ensured the party a top-of-the-ticket standard-bearer.
In California’s “top two” primary, no party is guaranteed a spot in the general election. Tuesday’s first round was open to all voters, and the two candidates with the most votes in each race are now advancing to the second and final round in November. In heavily Democratic or Republican districts, the system is designed to pit candidates of the same party against each other in the general election to create more competitive races.
But the top-two posed an additional threat to Democrats this year, as anti-Trump enthusiasm spawned a surge of qualified candidates in Republican-held districts that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016, including three in and around Orange County in Southern California. The fear was that the Democrats would split their votes and allow two Republicans to capture the top spots. Democrats need to pick up 23 seats to claim the House majority, and several of their best opportunities are in California. In the final week, state Democratic Party Chairman Eric Bauman told me he expected the party to be shut out of “at least a couple” of key races.