This year’s senate race in California is particularly interesting because we’re going to see two Democrats running against each other. This is happening because California has what is called a “top-two primary” system. This means that, rather than being sorted by party, all primary candidates appear on the same ballot. The two candidates that receive the most votes, regardless of party affiliation, then move on to the general election. While the primary wasn’t competitive per se (Kamala Harris got more votes than the next five candidates put together), there were 34 candidates vying for a spot on the ballot in November. This influx of candidates follows Herrnson’s (2016) findings that more candidates run when a seat opens up. However, most of them received less than 1% of the vote. The tendency for especially minor party and independent candidates to struggle to be competitive highlights a pattern where the top-two primary system is arguably making it harder for these candidates to have an impact on the political discourse.
Looking ahead to the general election, it is going to be interesting to see how the campaigns play out, as two candidates from the same party will be competing for votes.
Kamala Harris (D) decisively won the California primary with 40.2% of the vote, more than twice that of Loretta Sanchez (D), who came in second. Prior to running for office, Harris worked as an attorney for more than 20 years and served on several boards related to criminal justice. Harris has served as Attorney General of California since 2011, where she has been fighting for civil rights and criminal justice reform. These issues are also featured prominently on her campaign’s website. Harris has received support from a wide range of public officials, including President Obama and Elizabeth Warren, as well as the California Democratic Party. These endorsements have placed her as the pick of the party establishment, which is bound to give her an advantage as we head in to the general election.
Loretta Sanchez (D), who came in second in the primary with 19% of the vote, has been a member of Congress since 1996, where she has represented California’s 46th district. She has not faced a competitive election (general or primary) since she was first elected in 1996. Sanchez’ committee work has been focused on domestic and international security, as she has served on the Armed Services Committee as well as the Homeland Security Committee for several terms. During her time as a congresswoman, Sanchez has been voting with the Democratic party over 90% of the time, and ideologically falls fairly center within the Democratic party. For her current campaign, Sanchez is highlighting her stance as a liberal on education, health care, and women’s rights. Additionally, gun-violence prevention is featured on her campaign’s website as a prominent issue. She has received endorsements from several members of Congress and over a dozen labor organizations.
Considering the large margin with which Kamala Harris won the primary, the general election is not expected to be particularly close. That being said, I’m excited to discover the nuances of race and gender as they play out in this campaign.