Chen controls the California controller race, but for how long? – The New Willits

In the race for California controller, Tuesday’s primary was, in many ways, the main event.

Based on voter registration, Lanhee Chen, the lone Republican in the race, was expected to secure one of two spots to qualify for the general election. And on Thursday night, Chen had 37.2% of the vote — one of the best showings recently for a Republican in a statewide top-two primary.

But the bigger question was which of the four Democrats would advance — and based on simple math, get a head start to win in November.

While the ballots are still being counted, Malia Cohen, president of the State Board of Equalization, has a substantial lead for second place. And even though the results are not official, she has already took a place in the top two.

As of Thursday night, Cohen had won 21.4% of the vote – with Yvonne Yiu, a member of the Monterey Park City Council in Southern California, at 15.9% despite spending nearly $6 million of her own money .

Yiu does better, however, than State Sen. Steve Glazer (only 11.5% of the vote) and Ron Galperin, the only candidate with “controller” next to his name on the ballot as city comptroller. of Los Angeles (10.5%).

Why Chen and Cohen?

Chen had the full support of the Republican Party. His main message that California needs an independent financial watchdog outside of the Democratic power structure appealed to several major newspaper editorial boards and voters.

Cohen had the big boons of the official blessing of the California Democratic Party, as well as endorsements from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, seven statewide constitutional officers, and numerous members of Congress. and the Legislative Assembly. She also had the support and more than $1.3 million from influential labor groups, including nurses and teachers.

“The support coalition is what got us here,” Cohen told CalMatters on Thursday. “You are judged by the company you keep, and what made our campaign stand out is that our base was broad and broad, and it continues to grow.”

Consultant Garry South said that while party endorsements don’t always make a difference, they can have an impact in a competitive downward race like the Controller, particularly when candidates aren’t well known across the board. State.

“It can be effective in primaries where multiple Democrats are running,” he said.

It’s also helpful financially: having the party’s seal of approval gives a candidate access to donors and other resources.

It’s more useful in general elections, Cohen said.

But Cohen has been smart about how she spends her money, campaign strategist Dana Williamson said Thursday during a Sacramento Press Club post-primary discussion. That included buying TV time and spending money early in the Bay Area, where she has been recognized for eight years on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

What awaits us for the fall

According to Cohen, the challenge is to get voters excited about the election.

She plans to focus her campaign on fairness, especially when it comes to helping working women and families, and on transparency — “not just talking about transparency, but living that and sharing that message. “, she said.

Cohen criticized Chen for not disclosing whether he voted for former President Donald Trump or his position on abortion.

Chen, a longtime political adviser widely hailed as a rising star in the GOP, said he believed Joe Biden had been legitimately elected president.

But his positions, or lack thereof, are not the only challenges he faces. It’s math: To run in November, he needs to garner significant support from registered Democrats and voters with no party preference. Republicans make up just 24% of registered voters in California, while 47% are registered as Democrats.

In a press release Tuesday eveningChen acknowledged his uphill battle: “Winning in November will take an effort that hasn’t been seen in our state for a long time.”

He’s trying to snap a 16-year losing streak for Republicans for statewide offices. Their last victory was in 2006, when Republican Steve Poizner was elected insurance commissioner and Arnold Schwarzenegger was re-elected governor.

“My biggest challenge is that I am not a career politician who will benefit from the help of deep-pocketed special interests to help get my message across this huge state,” Chen said in a statement Thursday to CalMatters. .

Although the state’s Republican Party plans to focus its resources on congressional races to help the GOP regain control of the U.S. House, they are enthusiastic about Chen.

“Early on, Lanhee Chen underscored his desire to bring control and efficiency to the state, something that Democratic offices in California lack,” Republican National Committee spokeswoman Hallie Balch said in an email. mail. “The state party and the Republican National Committee are excited to put their boots on the field and continue to reach out to voters to elect Republicans from the top down.”

But longtime political observers warn against getting too enthusiastic about Chen.

South pointed to the lesson of then-Fresno mayor Ashley Swearengin, who ran as a Republican for control in 2014. She led with 25% in the primary to three Democrats and another Republican. But one-to-one in the general election lost to current Comptroller Betty Yee by 54% to 46%.

Longtime GOP consultant Mike Madrid said that while he thought Chen was brilliant, defeating California’s huge Democratic majority was difficult. And it doesn’t help that Chen doesn’t say whether he voted for Trump, for apparent fear of angering the Republican base.

“A lot of these rising stars who think they can play it both ways have made a huge strategic tactical mistake,” Madrid said. “They have remained silent during an extraordinarily dangerous time in our nation’s history and this poor judgment will define their ability to be elected.”

“We are in an era of hyper-politicization,” he added. “There is no evidence to suggest that will change.”

James V. Hayes