With less than a month to go before the midterms, what are the key issues on voters’ minds? Last week, a panel of top political journalists, moderated by Jennifer Medina, national politics reporter at The New York Times, talked about the priorities and mood of California’s electorate.
The political landscape has already shifted a great deal since the beginning of the year. Four months ago, all of the economic and political trends suggested a red-wave election, said Tamara Keith, White House correspondent at National Public Radio. But after the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in June, “an election that was just going to be about the economy is now about a lot of other things, in particular, abortion and reproductive rights.”
The focus on abortion has also intensified national partisan battles over other social issues, including immigration and LGBTQ rights. “In this midterm, there is no such thing as, ‘all politics is local’ anymore,” said Christine Mai-Duc, who covers state politics, housing, and the economy at The Wall Street Journal. “This is a nationalized election in a much greater way than in the 2018 midterms.”
Nevertheless, “kitchen table” problems are still resonating with voters, especially in city, county, and state government races. “Cost of living, housing, and homelessness swamp a lot of other issues,” said Terry Tang, editorial page editor at The Los Angeles Times. She added that in local races, it’s less about the partisan divide and more about what candidates will do to solve these pressing problems.
Newly redrawn district maps mean that even some incumbents are running on new terrain. There’s an opportunity for Latino voters to have more of a voice with the new maps, said Mai-Duc. But the political implications of this shift are unclear, given the ideological diversity of Latino voters. Mai-Duc emphasized the importance of ongoing coalition-building efforts—which some campaigns have started to undertake—in boosting participation. “Don’t just show up three weeks before the election and [hand out] a flyer in Spanish,” she said.
Due in part to the state’s changing demographics, rhetoric on immigration has played less of a role in California races than in other parts of the country, like Florida. Medina noted that the competitive congressional district 45 in Orange County used to be a bastion of anti-immigration rhetoric in the 1990s. Now the district is largely made up of communities of color and there are two Asian American candidates. “I don’t see them duking it out over ‘who’s the American,’ which would have been the case a few decades ago, said Tang.
As November 8 approaches, it is worth keeping in mind that there have only been three midterms in US history when the president’s party gained seats in the House. Yet Keith pointed out that this election is “a bit scrambled,” with indicators like party fundraising and motivation pointing in different directions. Voters will have to make their voices heard at the ballot to determine if this election will—or won’t—buck historical trends.
PPIC’s Speaker Series on California’s Future invites thought leaders and changemakers with diverse perspectives to participate critically, constructively, and collaboratively in public conversations. The purpose is to give Californians a better understanding of how our leaders are addressing the challenges facing our state.
PPIC is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization. PPIC does not take or support positions on any ballot measure or on any local, state, or federal legislation, nor does it support, endorse, or oppose any political parties or candidates for public office. Any opinions expressed by event participants are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect any position of the Public Policy Institute of California.