The coronavirus pandemic obviously overshadows this year’s political contests, but we presumably will still have an election seven months hence, so we cannot completely ignore its potential outcomes.
Will President Donald Trump’s re-election chances, which were iffy before the pandemic struck, be enhanced by his handling of the crisis — so far erratic, at best — or diminished?
Will Democrats ratify former Vice President Joe Biden’s pre-crisis lock on their party’s presidential nomination, or will they opt for someone else?
How will the pandemic affect Democrats’ chances of recapturing the U.S. Senate and Republicans’ ambitions to take back the House it lost in 2018?
Pandemic or not, California is destined to play a relatively minor role in this year’s national political drama. With Republicans now irrelevant in the deep blue state, its most significant political duels are those between competing factions of Democrats and three conflicts in Southern California this year are showcases. In no particular order:
- Historically, San Diego, the state’s second-largest city, has been friendly territory for Republican politicians but has been trending blue. The city’s latest and perhaps last Republican mayor, Kevin Faulconer, is stepping down and two Democrats, Assemblyman Todd Gloria and City Councilwoman Barbara Bry, finished 1-2 in the March primary and will face each other in November.
Gloria is outwardly the more liberal of the two, enjoys strong support from labor unions and other liberal interest groups and probably has the edge as the two-person duel begins. Bry, a businesswoman and former journalist, has been taking a populist save-our-neighborhoods stance, decrying efforts by “Sacramento politicians” to force communities to accept more high-density, multi-family housing.
- The sharpest intraparty duel in Los Angeles pits the county’s district attorney, Jackie Lacey, against George Gascón, who had been district attorney in San Francisco, but resigned to return to his former home and challenge Lacey.
It’s one of many contests for state and county prosecutor positions around the nation, pitting criminal justice reformers such as Gascón, who advocate rehabilitation and treatment for felons rather than incarceration, against more traditional prosecutors such as Lacey.
Their contest is loaded with cultural crosscurrents. Lacey is a career prosecutor who moved through the ranks to become the first woman and first African-American to hold the office. Cuban-born Gascón is a former policeman who eventually became a deputy chief in Los Angeles and police chief of San Francisco before becoming that city’s top prosecutor.
Lacey, who fell just shy of winning re-election outright in March, is probably the favorite seven months out, and it shapes up as a classic battle over crime and punishment.
- The third big battle is also in Los Angeles — for control of the Los Angeles Unified School District’s board.
It’s the latest chapter in a years-long, see-saw struggle between unions, particularly United Teachers of Los Angeles, and charter school advocates for control of the seven-member board. Unions enjoy a 4-3 majority now, but all four of their seats are up this year. Two of the four are already nailed down for the unions, but they must win runoffs for the other two to retain control. Conversely, the charter faction needs to win one of the two to regain control.
While all contests for Los Angeles Unified board seats are hard-fought, the stakes are higher now because Gov. Gavin Newsom last year signed legislation giving local school boards more power over charters. If they prevail, unions openly hope to throttle the charter school movement in the nation’s second-largest school district.
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