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California Democrats Secure Ballot Spots In Key Races


It is the day after primary day in California, and Democrats seem to have avoided a disaster. Party members had been worried they might get shut out of key House races. This is because California operates under a top-two system. Only the top two finishers, no matter what party they represent, end up on the general election ballot. Well, some races are still too close to call, but so far, it looks so good for California Democrats. Marisa Lagos is California politics reporter for KQED. She's also co-host of the Political Breakdown podcast, and she's here to bring us up to speed. Marisa, welcome.

MARISA LAGOS, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

KELLY: We're glad to have you with us. Let me zoom right in on these congressional races we've been talking so much about. This is Democrats trying to win in seven House districts. Hillary Clinton won them. They're currently held by Republicans. They're seen as key to Democratic efforts to regain control in the House of Representatives. What's the latest? What do we know about how Democrats fared?

LAGOS: Well, there - it's looking very good for them. You know, there was this sort of panic among both the state and national parties in recent weeks that it could end up with two Republicans in some of these races. And what we're seeing is that's really not the case. I mean, two districts in particular are interesting in the Orange County area. Darrell Issa is retiring; so is Ed Royce. Those are districts that are, even if Democrats don't win this year, looking more and more likely to turn blue. And I think that we're - you know, all of these races have become sort of flashpoints in this entire tussle over control of Congress.

And as you said, even though some of them are still up in the air, for example, Dana Rohrabacher's seat in Orange County - it looks like there's two Democrats actually competing for that No. 2 spot. The Republican who thought - we thought might squeak through isn't even - it doesn't look like at this point anywhere near them.

KELLY: Well, this brings me to my next question. Democrats safely on the ballots in these races, it's looking like. Do they really have a chance of winning come November?

LAGOS: That absolutely depends on the district. You know, there's a couple like Jeff Denham's district in the Central Valley where time and time again Democrats have tried to turn them and they have lost. But as I said, I think some of these Orange County seats are looking a little bit more up for grabs. I think we're going to have a better sense, you know, in the coming weeks. But, for example, Darrell Issa's seat - the Republican candidate does look strong, but they - it looks like Democrats also got the Democrat they would like to see - Mike Levin, an environmental attorney, young, fresh-faced, all the things I think that they're looking for. So, you know, it's going to be a battle. They're definitely not guaranteeing anything.

KELLY: Let me turn you to the race for governor. There was also a gubernatorial primary last night. This is interesting. Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom - he took the top spot easily. John Cox, a Republican businessman, came in second. And Republicans are looking at this as a victory that he came in second and saying victory even if he loses to Newsom. How come?

LAGOS: Yeah, this is one of those weird election nights where both parties are claiming victory in California. The issue is this top-two primary. And because Republicans have slipped behind no-party-preference voters in California - they're about a quarter of the electorate now - there was a real big fear among Democrats that they could just miss out on this top-of-the-ticket race. And that would impact those congressional races we're talking about.

KELLY: That Republican voters just wouldn't come out at all.

LAGOS: Exactly.

KELLY: Right. OK, before I let you go, I have to ask you about the Fonz, Henry Winkler...

LAGOS: (Laughter) Of course.

KELLY: ...Who played Fonzie back on "Happy Days." He tried to vote yesterday. He couldn't. He was not the only one. Briefly, what happened?

LAGOS: One-hundred-eighteen-thousand voters had been left off of the rolls that - at precincts. They said it was a printing error and urged everyone to cast provisional ballots. But it was a big problem for the biggest county in California.

KELLY: Wow, all right. I'm tempted to give you my Fonzie imitation, but I will spare you that today.

LAGOS: (Laughter) Next time.

KELLY: (Laughter) Next time we may have a chance to revisit it. Thanks very much, Marisa.

LAGOS: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

KELLY: That's Marisa Lagos, California politics reporter for KQED. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Marisa Lagos