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MAGIC WALL: Takeaways from CA primary night

Both Democrats and Republicans are claiming victory after primary night in California. CNN's John King breaks down the results at the Magic Wall.

Posted: Jun 7, 2018 8:40 AM
Updated: Jun 7, 2018 8:40 AM

It was painful getting there, but the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's strategy to intervene in the contentious and complicated primaries in California worked on Tuesday night and could be seen as an inflection point in the 2018 midterms should Democrats wrest control of the US House from Republicans in November.

The committee's decision to pick some Democrats over other Democrats and slam the GOP for, among many things, supporting Democratic policies stirred up liberal angst in the weeks ahead of the primary and had Republicans crying foul.

But as the dust settled on Wednesday morning, national Democratic operatives woke up -- in Washington, mostly -- confident they had scythed their way through the dense and chaotic California "jungle primary," a nonpartisan contest that advances the two leading vote-getters regardless of party affiliation, without losing any top prospects on the journey.

After months of worry and late pangs of panic, Democrats would be on the ballot in nearly all the state's 53 districts, news that is already breeding a new optimism for a fall House takeover as the general election season kicks off in the Golden State.

But before the relief, and some muted celebration, there were nerves -- and spin. Weeks before voters went to the polls, operatives were openly discussing the possibility that Democrats would be locked out of a couple of key races. It was, some said, almost a guarantee. And the blame would fall, rightly or not, on the Democratic Party and its besieged campaign arms.

The morning after, though, the picture looked much different.

"This is the best-case scenario in terms of last night's results," said Meredith Kelly, the top communications aide at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, who admitted that even on Tuesday afternoon this outcome looked unlikely. "We knew we faced a real risk of being boxed out, and that is something we felt the pressure of up until last night's votes started rolling in."

It didn't come cheaply.

The committee spent millions in the California primary -- cash that now won't be there in November when Democrats make their final push in critical races across the country. But Kelly called it money well spent.

"We have set ourselves up to win multiple seats in California in November, and we wouldn't have been able to go to the final match if we hadn't gotten Democrats through," she said. "It would have been over."

The strategy was simple, in theory: Prop up certain Democrats while knocking down the second- and third-tier Republicans who threatened to take advantage of a split vote on the left and slip into the top-two.

More challenging would be the execution: Pulling it off without doing more damage to the organization's already fraught relationship with the progressive grass roots, which often criticize the committee for untimely interventions and candidate recruitment tactics, would be more difficult.

California's 48th Congressional District was perhaps the stickiest wicket. The committee angered some local Democrats in May when it endorsed businessman Harley Rouda over scientist Hans Keirstead. The decision caused heartburn in the district's well-off seaside communities, which had been pretty clearly divided between the two candidates already, and led to new accusations that the national party was overstepping its bounds.

Whatever hard feeling followed, the desired results, again, came too. Though the race remains close, it now seems likely that either Rouda or Keirstead will move on to face incumbent GOP Rep. Dana Rohrabacher in November.

The committee's tactics -- and timing -- mitigated some of the almost instinctive opposition to its involvement. In backing Rouda late, after labor groups, the Sierra Club and organizations like Indivisible, the party was able to bolster his candidacy without a creating a situation like in Texas' 7th District, where the committee's efforts to undermine a progressive candidate likely boosted her in a first round of primary voting.

Aaron McCall, chairman of Indivisible OC 48, sang the committee's praises on Wednesday morning, cheering its decision to jump in only "after following the lead of the grassroots."

"We felt like the DCCC worked as a brilliant collaborative partner to equalize a race where a decision was made too early by the CA Dems," he said, referencing the California state party's controversial endorsement of Keirstead back in February.

Rouda campaign manager Mike McLaughlin said an $800,000 cable and TV broadcast ad, which ran for two weeks, gave the campaign a boost, calling it "gasoline on the fire that helped accelerate our momentum and the coalescing (of Democratic voters and groups) around us."

At the same time they were boosting Rouda, Democrats were busy mucking up the Republican side of the race -- first by running ads against Republican Scott Baugh, who was viewed as the biggest threat to finish second behind Rohrabacher, then by boosting Republican John Gabbard, a veteran and businessman, in an attempt to fracture the district's Republican vote.

McLaughlin called the nearly $2 million shelled out by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to split Republicans "incredibly helpful" and key to stemming a top-two lockout.

"The negative Baugh spending worked," he said. "Baugh was in third place, and then the spending came against Baugh late. That started at the same time as our pro-Harley spending. So Baugh's Election Day results trickled off -- he had an OK position in the early vote, then trickled off to go into fourth place, which was the exact opposite of our trajectory."

Meanwhile, in California's 39th Congressional District primary, the committee boosted Gil Cisneros, a veteran and lottery winner, and it also spent over $2 million against Bob Huff and Shawn Nelson, two of the insurgent Republicans who could have boxed Democrats out in the district.

The strategy worked and Cisneros, according to CNN's projection, will move on to a general election contest against Young Kim, the Republican who finished first in the primary.

The party used a similar tactic in the nearby 49th Congressional District, where the committee aired ads -- to the tune of $1.6 million -- against California Assemblyman Rocky Chavez, a Republican, for voting with Democrats in the legislative body.

The ads caused plenty of consternation from Republicans, who accused Democrats of slamming their own policies. But once again the results were there. Chavez finished way back on Tuesday and CNN can project that at least one Democrat will advance to the general election in November.

If Rouda holds on to his lead in the 48th District, the committee will have emerged from the day with all nine of its "red to blue" candidates on ballots Tuesday intact and ready to challenge Republicans in November.

Should Rouda win, the group has gone 19 for 20, to date, with its preferred campaigns advancing in states like Arkansas, Texas, Ohio, North Carolina and -- on Tuesday alone -- Iowa, New Jersey and New Mexico, where highly touted hopefuls like Abby Finkenauer won in the Hawkeye State's 1st Congressional District. Andy Kim, in New Jersey's 3rd, is now set for what's expected to be a feisty showdown with GOP Rep. Tom MacArthur.

Though Democratic complaining reigned going into Tuesday's primaries, few are able to complain now, and those who are might have trouble finding Democratic voters inclined to listen.

Even Keirstead, the Democrat who saw the committee spend against him in his race, admitted that the decision to knock down Baugh in the campaign "worked for the party."

That said, as he finds himself in a neck-and-neck fight with Rouda to move on to the general election, Keirstead appeared clearly irked that the committee got involved in his side of the race.

"It was a risky thing to do, in retrospect," he said of the committee's endorsement of Rouda. "I am not sure it worked, and if they didn't do it, I would certainly be in second place."

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 485655

Reported Deaths: 6558
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1007641586
Ramsey43106801
Dakota36297390
Anoka33293385
Washington22078256
Stearns18734201
St. Louis14805262
Scott13290107
Wright12526115
Olmsted1178988
Sherburne872872
Carver772640
Clay691587
Rice670491
Blue Earth594735
Kandiyohi579574
Crow Wing520681
Chisago499045
Otter Tail482170
Benton446490
Winona418349
Mower404731
Douglas392668
Nobles387047
Goodhue385768
Polk343162
McLeod339349
Beltrami337951
Morrison324547
Itasca313046
Lyon313044
Becker311342
Isanti306154
Steele300411
Carlton300149
Pine282016
Freeborn280723
Nicollet258641
Todd248030
Brown245037
Le Sueur235320
Mille Lacs227447
Cass220024
Waseca208717
Meeker207434
Martin189528
Wabasha18653
Roseau180217
Hubbard160640
Houston157314
Dodge15224
Renville149640
Redwood147027
Fillmore13728
Chippewa136335
Cottonwood134820
Pennington134416
Wadena130920
Faribault123017
Aitkin118833
Sibley117310
Watonwan11738
Rock115714
Kanabec107519
Pipestone101424
Yellow Medicine97617
Murray9448
Jackson93510
Swift87918
Pope8045
Marshall77815
Stevens7418
Lake74018
Clearwater71914
Lac qui Parle68416
Wilkin67110
Koochiching61811
Big Stone5163
Lincoln5062
Grant4918
Norman4788
Unassigned46768
Mahnomen4417
Kittson40921
Red Lake3625
Traverse3055
Lake of the Woods2191
Cook1180

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 362827

Reported Deaths: 5440
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk58260551
Linn20670313
Scott18318210
Black Hawk16258292
Woodbury14979211
Johnson1384874
Dubuque13562194
Dallas1138690
Pottawattamie10791143
Story1024945
Warren556674
Clinton543784
Cerro Gordo533782
Webster519587
Marshall497272
Sioux494869
Buena Vista474537
Des Moines458861
Muscatine452291
Wapello4345108
Jasper417766
Plymouth395378
Lee375452
Marion359169
Jones294154
Henry293337
Carroll286249
Bremer280854
Crawford275135
Boone259730
Washington254347
Benton253854
Mahaska224746
Jackson221638
Dickinson217840
Tama213765
Kossuth208555
Clay193625
Hamilton192142
Delaware189140
Winneshiek189127
Buchanan185729
Fayette185235
Page183319
Hardin181439
Wright179931
Harrison179469
Cedar178523
Clayton168154
Butler167231
Mills163020
Floyd162741
Cherokee154836
Madison154718
Poweshiek154330
Hancock147130
Allamakee146747
Lyon145941
Iowa145023
Appanoose139247
Grundy139230
Jefferson138734
Winnebago138631
Cass134751
Calhoun133811
Mitchell130940
Louisa128241
Union126631
Chickasaw125215
Sac124618
Emmet121740
Shelby121733
Franklin118319
Humboldt117925
Guthrie116628
Palo Alto105221
Montgomery104136
Howard102921
Clarke100420
Unassigned9900
Keokuk98229
Monroe93328
Adair92128
Ida91432
Pocahontas85419
Davis83123
Monona81627
Greene77510
Lucas74021
Osceola70615
Worth6997
Taylor66612
Fremont5909
Decatur5829
Van Buren56118
Ringgold52320
Wayne48921
Audubon4889
Adams3274
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