Key Races to Watch in California’s March 5 Primary - The World News

Key Races to Watch in California’s March 5 Primary

Primary season is officially underway for the 22 million registered voters in California.

Ballots have already gone out for the March 5 primary, in which voters will choose their nominees for president, and also weigh in on a number of state and local contests that could have big ramifications for the state’s future.

Voters will have their say on a ballot measure championed by Gov. Gavin Newsom that would finance mental health treatment; choose candidates for the State Legislature; and decide many local races, including the crowded contest for district attorney in Los Angeles.

Ballots were sent on Feb. 5 to every registered voter in the state, and they can be returned by mail or handed in at secure drop-off locations or county elections offices. Some locations for early in-person voting will open on Saturday.

Here are some of the key races.

When Dianne Feinstein died in September, the U.S. Senate seat that she had held for more than three decades fell vacant. Newsom swiftly appointed Laphonza Butler to serve until elections could be held to fill the vacancy, and Butler decided not to run, clearing the way for an open primary race.

Four leading candidates have emerged from a crowded field:

  • Representative Adam Schiff, 63, Democrat of Burbank, currently the front-runner in polls and perhaps best known for having served as the lead prosecutor in the first impeachment trial of Donald Trump;

  • Representative Katie Porter, 50, an Orange County Democrat known for grilling powerful leaders during congressional hearings;

  • Representative Barbara Lee, 77, Democrat of Oakland and a longtime progressive;

  • Steve Garvey, 75, a former first baseman for the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres and the only Republican among the four leaders.

In California’s election system, all candidates, regardless of party, compete in a single primary, and the two who receive the most votes advance to the general election. For a while, it seemed that Schiff and Porter were headed for an intraparty battle in November. But Garvey’s fame and some strategic ads from Schiff have made Garvey a serious threat to knock Porter out of the running, as my colleague Shawn Hubler explained Tuesday.

An Emerson College poll released on Tuesday showed Garvey overtaking Porter for second place in the primary race. Since Schiff appears to be well positioned to survive the primary, the main question is whether Porter will as well, and give him a serious challenge in November. Garvey would stand little chance of winning the general election; California voters haven’t elected a Republican in a statewide race since 2006.

Though California is generally a heavily blue state, there are pockets of red and purple, and some congressional districts in suburban areas and the Central Valley are competitive. Narrow victories by Republicans in the San Joaquin Valley, Orange County and other more conservative parts of the state in 2022 helped their party take control of the House.

California is likely to play a big role in determining control of the House again this year. Republicans now have only a seven-seat majority in the House, and California’s delegation has 40 Democrats, 11 Republicans and one vacant seat.

Of the 72 most competitive House races in the nation, 10 are in California, according to the Cook Political Report. Many of them involve the same districts where races were extremely close in 2022, including the 47th District seat in Orange County, which Porter is giving up to run for the Senate; the 27th District in northern Los Angeles County, represented by Mike Garcia, a Republican; and the 22nd District in the Central Valley, where David Valadao, a Republican, won with 51.5 percent of the vote in 2022.

George Gascón was elected in 2020 to be the district attorney of Los Angeles County, in what was then seen as a major victory for the movement to back liberal prosecutors after nationwide protests against police brutality.

Gascón, 69, is running for re-election this year, but as my colleague Tim Arango has reported, this time the race feels much more traditional, animated by crime concerns rather than by reducing racial disparities and reining in the police.

“I think that this race now, for 2024, has gone back to, for a lot of people, law and order, lock ’em up,” Gascón told Tim in a recent interview.

Gascón faces 11 opponents, most of whom are running to his right and are challenging a number of his policies. He has been criticized over his reluctance to pursue enhancements — for gang affiliations or for the use of firearms during a crime, among other things — that can add years to a sentence. He also faces attacks for declining in most cases to charge juvenile offenders as adults, and for limiting the use of cash bail.

Unless one candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, a remote possibility, the top two contenders in the primary will advance to a general election in November.

When Mayor London Breed of San Francisco said welfare recipients should undergo drug screening or lose their assistance, liberal critics thought it was a surprising throwback to the 1990s era of cracking down on people who rely on public benefits.

But Breed went ahead with her proposal, and it has reached the March ballot. The measure, Proposition F, would require people receiving county aid to undergo a screening process if they are suspected of drug addiction. Those who are deemed to be drug users would have to enroll in a treatment program to continue receiving benefits.

With San Francisco experiencing a record number of overdose deaths, Breed said last year that her proposal “aims to create more accountability and help get people to accept the treatment and services they need.”

The proposal also may help Breed shore up her standing among frustrated voters as she runs for re-election later this year. She is facing challengers who have attacked her from the right, as my colleague Heather Knight wrote recently.

Proposition F could offer a gauge of voter attitudes in San Francisco, a city that may slowly be shedding its longtime progressive identity. Two years ago, voters in the city recalled school board members and a district attorney who were seen as too far left. Requiring drug screening for welfare recipients would once have been politically unthinkable in San Francisco, but these days, polls are showing that voters are in a foul mood.

Two storms caused by atmospheric rivers drenched California this month, dropping record rainfall on Los Angeles and causing mudslides in the hills above the city. But the storms had a positive effect, too: They helped replenish the state’s snowpack, which had been in an extended period of drought.

New satellite photos from NASA show the extent of this relief on mountains across the state, The Los Angeles Times reported recently. In a side-by-side comparison, the photos, from Jan. 29 and Feb. 11, show previously bare mountaintops in the Sierra Nevada and Southern California blanketed in snow.

Data from the California Department of Water Resources reflects the increase, too. On Feb. 11, the state’s snowpack reached 75 percent of normal levels, up from 52 percent on Jan. 31, data shows. As of Tuesday, the statewide snowpack had grown to 85 percent of normal levels.

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