Why Kamala Harris won in California

With 62% of the vote, Kamala Harris won a decisive victory in the race for the Senate seat in California. As the front runner for the entire campaign as well as the California primary, this result was not a surprise. Her backing by national democratic leaders, including President Obama, along with her clear fundraising advantage, meant that Sanchez never really stood a chance.

This was the first run of California’s new top-two primary system, in which only the top two vote recipients from the primary, regardless of party affiliation, are on the ballot in the general election. With two Democrats running against each other, Sanchez would have needed to pull support from Republicans, Independents, and moderate Democrats, something she seemingly failed to do. According to exit polls, Sanchez lost every age group and failed to whip up enthusiasm among California Republicans. In fact, of voters surveyed, “35% of Republicans and 15% of independents said they did not vote in the U.S. Senate race.” This shortcoming demonstrates a potential problem for the top-two primary system, if the lack of a candidate from one of the major parties leads to a significant drop in participation.

Harris’ success among virtually every demographic is hard to explain with just one argument, not because potential causes are lacking, but rather because she has been advantaged in every conventional measure of campaign success. She received significantly more media coverage than Sanchez throughout the campaign, has been backed by the Democratic party establishment, as well as interest groups, and is ideologically more extreme than Sanchez, which would overall seem to translate into higher levels of mobilization and general voter support. This means that a wide range of factors, rather than just one could explain her success. In reality, these factors probably worked together to form a successful campaign.

Another interesting fact about the outcome of this election is the comparisons already being drawn between Kamala Harris and President Obama. Some news outlets are already mentioning Harris in their guesses for who might become the first woman president, following Clinton’s defeat. Ultimately, the campaign for California’s senate seat is comforting, especially this election cycle, because it turned out exactly as expected, and as would be indicated by the traditional campaign factors. However, this campaign suffered in attention level and fundraising due to its structure, as everyone knew since the June primary, that the seat was guaranteed to stay Democratic.


2 thoughts on “Why Kamala Harris won in California”

  1. I find this election particularly interesting because of the new top-two primary system and how a decent percentage of Republicans and Independents (in such a large state) did not vote for either senate candidate. I wonder if California will continue to use this primary system. Did you find any information as to the future of this system during your research?


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