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Primary election no-shows in California are a warning to Biden

They’re almost done counting the votes from the California primary and the news isn’t good for President Joe Biden.

Of course he “won”. He was virtually unopposed and easily captured California’s largest bloc of delegates to the Democratic National Convention. His re-nomination for a second term was never in doubt – if he even ran at all.

But the troubling news for Biden is that hundreds of thousands of Democratic and independent voters who cast ballots in the March 5 primary have shrugged off the presidential race, ignoring him.

Look, the presidential vote comes at the very top of the ballot. How much effort does it take to mark the name of a sitting president who is known to everyone? This does not require fine-tuning, unlike a complex ballot proposition.

But many more people voted on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Proposition 1 — the mental health bond measure — as the state’s ballot ended.

“Usually, votes fall after the top of the ticket rather than people skipping the top,” notes Mark Baldassare, a pollster for the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California, or PPIC.

The fact that many voters snubbed the presidential race raises two questions, Baldassare says. Will they repeat this in November? Will they also support a third party or independent candidate, like Robert F. Kennedy Jr.?

This would not hurt Biden in California. He is assured of California’s 54 electoral votes, the most of any state. The modern GOP is incapable of winning statewide elections in California.

But California voters are not entirely unrepresentative of the nation. Their lack of enthusiasm for Biden is a reflection of Democratic attitudes nationally, as polls have repeatedly shown.

And it could cost Biden dearly in a half-dozen battleground states where even a small loss of support from Democratic or independent voters could tilt the race toward Republican Donald Trump. It’s not that these voters would side with Trump over Biden. But they could drop out of the race altogether or support a third-party guy. This is what scares the Biden camp.

Trump wins with the base

On the right, on the other hand, Trump’s support base is solid.

And that, frankly, surprises me. About 2 million California Republicans voted for a lying, uncivil, fraudulent con man.

In addition to being indicted on 91 counts and inspiring a deadly insurrection at the nation’s Capitol, the former president recently warned of a “bloodbath” if he lost the election and bought now shamelessly customizing Bibles for profit. “Make America pray again” is his argument.

OK, the bloodbath warning was in reference to the economic impact of offshore auto manufacturing and its plan to increase tariffs on foreign-made cars. But is “bloodbath” the kind of language we want the U.S. president to use when discussing tariff policy or conducting international diplomacy?

When Trumpers are asked why they can vote for such a bad-tempered fool, they invariably respond that the alternative – “Crooked Joe” – is worse.

Except that doesn’t explain their votes in the California primary. Biden was not on the GOP ballot. Trump’s only active opponent was Nikki Haley, a respectable former Republican governor and United Nations ambassador.

“People want to vote for whoever wins,” Republican consultant Matt Rexroad told me. “They think Trump is going to be the winner and they want to get on the train.”

Trump won every county in California, winning about 80% of the Republican Party vote. Haley got about 18%.

Biden is overlooked

In the Democratic vote, Biden received about 89%, or about 3.2 million votes.

To put that in perspective, there were 10.3 million registered Democratic voters. Additionally, there were 4.8 million independent voters – with no party preference – who could have voted in the Democratic presidential primary simply by requesting a ballot.

We make voting very easy in California. Each registered voter receives a ballot by mail along with a stamped return envelope. And you have one month before Election Day to vote.

Despite this, voter turnout was very low. It appears that about 34% of registered voters voted. In 2020, the turnout rate for the presidential primaries was 47%.

In California, Democrats outnumber Republicans almost twice.

But in this primary, a higher percentage of registered Republicans actually voted than Democrats or independents.

Paul Mitchell, who runs Political Data Inc., preliminarily estimates Republican turnout at 43 percent, compared to 37 percent for Democrats and just 23 percent for independents.

“A significant number of Democrats simply skipped the presidential race,” says political analyst Tony Quinn, a former Republican redistricting staffer who has analyzed voter numbers. “The numbers don’t lie.”

California Daily Newspapers

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