Thanks to the front-loaded primary process handcrafted by their party chairman, Terry McAuliffe, the millions of California's Democratic voters were reduced to ratifying an election that seems to have been decided six weeks ago by 120,000 Iowa caucus-goers.
Few surprises were found in the Golden State's Super Tuesday results, other than the lopsided near 4-to-1 victory that presidential candidate John Kerry scored over runner-up John Edwards. But even that was explained by network news stories reporting Edwards's certain withdrawal from the race flooding across the electronic borders a full four hours before the West Coast polls closed.
With his name still on the ballot, Howard Dean picked up just under 5 percent of the vote. Progressive candidate Dennis Kucinich disappointed some of his supporters, scoring about 4.5 percent. With active pockets of support for Kucinich in Hollywood and the liberal Bay Area, some thought he would do much better.
The presidential primary campaign barely flickered in the country's most populous state. A brief string of last-minute candidate rallies and a smattering of TV spots fell like scattered raindrops--almost unnoticed--in the vast ocean of media outlets that define politics in California. Voter turnout barely touched 40 percent--and much of that was driven by local interest in pressing state ballot propositions.
Indeed, the biggest winner in Tuesday's polling was arguably Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. With barely 100 days in office, Schwarzenegger put much of his political capital in play by backing two ballot measures--Props 57 and 58--that bundle $15 billion in state debt into a bond and places stricter spending limits on the legislature. The two propositions--which initially polled as toss-ups--won with staggering 20 percent and 40 percent margins, respectively.
To support the measures, the Governator assembled an unprecedented coalition stretching from Democratic US Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein and organized labor on the left, deep into the GOP on the right (Democrats, however, were more effusive in their support for the borrowing measure than were Republicans).
Arnold claimed victory Tuesday night in a televised appearance while a bipartisan squad of initiative supporters--including liberal State Senator Gil Cedillo and conservative leaders of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association--stood behind him. "I love it when the voters go to the polls and flex their muscles," said a beaming Schwarzenegger in a remarkably cross-party statement as he thanked not only Republicans but also the unions, the Democratic mayor of Los Angeles and the liberal Senate leader John Burton.
"This is a message to both parties," Schwarzenegger said. "If you work together you will get the people's support." Labor-backed Proposition 56, which would have lowered the two-thirds legislative majority needed for state tax hikes down to 55 percent, was soundly trounced, with its opponents vastly outspending its proponents. A statewide school bond measure--usually a slam dunk "Yes" in California--seemed to be winning by a hair.
Perhaps the other big winner Tuesday night was liberal incumbent Senator Barbara Boxer. She ran unopposed in the Democratic primary, but a host of Republicans jockeyed for the nomination to oppose her. Though he entered the race late, former Secretary of State Bill Jones wound up topping the GOP balloting Tuesday, sweeping aside former US Treasurer Rosario Marin. Some analysts speculated that as a popular Latina moderate, Marin might have been a formidable opponent for Boxer come November--but she garnered only about 15 percent of the GOP primary vote. By contrast, few observers believe the drab, right-to-life-conservative Jones will have much of a shot against Boxer.
Meanwhile, in the original Surf City, Orange County's Huntington Beach, the campaign of former US Congressman "B-2" Bob Dornan took an unceremonious header. The bombastic ultraconservative who was forced out of Congress in 1996 by Democrat Loretta Sanchez, was attempting a comeback in a different district. Unfortunately, the incumbent he targeted, Dana Rohrabacher of the 46th District, had an impeccable right-wing record, leaving Dornan little political opening. Rohrabacher smashed Dornan with a 4 to 1 victory.