The election, that is. The really ugly stuff -- the governing -- is next.
And as the returns start to roll in, here are some of the side stories, stories behind the stories, and trends that might be worth watching.
A programming note: we've got just about all the election coverage you could want tonight on KQED Public Radio. Our coverage begins with national returns from NPR beginning at 5:00 p.m. Once the polls close here in the Golden State at 8:00 p.m., our special Election Night edition of The California Report kicks in until 11:00 p.m. So plenty of political coverage if you want it.
But away from the main stories, here are a few things worth watching -- both as returns come in, and after the dust settles.
Whither The GOP Ticket?
As the general election campaign began in June, there was plenty of talk about California Republicans having the most diverse (translation: electable) tickets ever -- three women, a Latino, an African American. But since they all took a victory lap together in June, we haven't actually seen the 'ticket' together. Yes, some of them have worked together. But the most likely pairing -- Meg Whitman and Abel Maldonado -- seems to have been most notably absent on the hustings. The Latino lieutenant governor described as a moderate, and the gubernatorial candidate who badly needed to reach out to both Latinos and moderates, would have seemed like a great #1/#2 team. But it apparently wasn't to be; in fact, Maldo's name doesn't even seem to appear anywhere on the Whitman website's Latino voters section.
As the returns come in tonight, it will also be worth watching the fates of Whitman and the other big contender, U.S. Senate nominee Carly Fiorina. A recent poll showed that Republicans said they were more happy with their Senate choices (Fiorina) than their choices in the gubernatorial race (Whitman). In fairness, the two women are joined by little more than their gender and their reputations as Silicon Valley CEOs; they also have faced distinctly different challenges in their quest for victory (it's not like Jerry Brown and Barbara Boxer have been doing lots of joint appearances, either). But Whitman and Fiorina will be the lead stories tonight; should either (or both) lose, it may draw attention to whether all boats could have been helped by a rising tide.
And Speaking of That Tide...
If the national predictions of a Republican victory on Capitol Hill are true, what happens once the nation's attention turns westward tonight? More specifically, what happens if the wave of news coverage about GOP conquest depresses Democratic voter turnout in the afternoon and early evening here in California? That's a fear some state Democratic politicos have been expressing lately, and it usually comes up in discussing the fate of the California's junior senator. The recent polls have shown Boxer with some of the slimmest leads of all major candidates, and even on Monday the Democrat's campaign was releasing a new radio ad. Boxer needs her most loyal Dems to show up all day long, especially in the state's urban areas. If they throw up their hands at the possibility of, say, John Boehner being the next speaker of the House... that's going to be tough sledding.
Turnout Trend #1: Who Shows Up?
This has been an unusually contentious season between the press and the political campaign pros over polling. The campaigns have either raked reporters over the coals for covering polling data that was supposedly way off base, or beat us up for not covering polls that they said were exactly on the money. And the big flash point has been the predictions these polls have used about how many D's, R's, and others are going to cast a vote. We know that the official voter pool (new numbers last week) in California is 44.1% Democratic, 31% Republican, 4.7% third parties, and 20.3% independent. But the polls that have been relied on for all of our pre-election reporting all believe the electorate that actually casts a ballot today is going to be closer to 39% Republican -- an acknowledgment that Reeps are fired up this election season, more so than Dems. The group most polls are counting on to take a pass (relative to their actual percentage of registered voters) is independents. If this comes to pass, it makes the hill to climb in blue-ish California much less steep for a red Republican. But even so, Democrats still have at least a five point (some polls say more) advantage tonight.
Turnout Trend #2: I Already Voted
This morning's Field Poll reaffirms what everyone's been noticing for the last few cycles: Election Day is becoming less important than Election Fortnight... or month... or whenever the millions of vote-by-mail voters cast their ballots. "For the first time in California's history," says Field, "more than one-half of the votes cast in today’s statewide general election will be by mail rather than at the precincts." In the past, what we used to call 'absentee' voters were more conservative (i.e., Republican) than the general electorate. But not so much anymore. Now, voters of all stripes vote at home, or the office, or Starbuck's. As of late last week, some local elections officials were guessing that only about 40% of VBM (vote by mail) ballots had been returned... so a lot of folks were still not convinced. But in separate Field Polls, Jerry Brown was leading Meg Whitman in VBM voters surveyed, as was Barbara Boxer in her contest with Carly Fiorina. If true, that's even more pressure on the top two GOP candidates for today.
Down Ticket Races to Watch
This has been an election season where the gap between the marquis races and the down-ticket contests has felt particularly large, especially with all of the gubernatorial race spending. So when a voter who's unfamiliar with, say, the candidates for treasurer or Board of Equalization scans down the ballot, what does he or she do? Flip a coin? Vote their political party? Two races, in particular, seem worth watching tonight: the race for insurance commissioner between Democrat Dave Jones and Republican Mike Villines, and the rematch/runoff for superintendent of public instruction between Larry Aceves and Tom Torlakson. The insurance commish race has been costly and combative and features two sitting members of the Assembly. The SPI race (a non-partisan position, though both men were Dems until Aceves recently switched to independent) features a veteran pol in Torlakson who's been jockeying for the job for a while versus a dark-horse candidate who was the top vote getter in June, no doubt helped by his listed ballot title of "retired school superintendent."
And Other Stuff
In no particular order... there's a special election for Senate District 1 that features a GOP vs. GOP race that, in part, has focused on the 2009 state budget deal which included a tax hike -- one guy voted for it, the other one didn't, the other prominent GOP candidate may benefit... Assembly District 5 features a nasty fight between a Republican attorney who worked on the legal fight to preserve Proposition 8 versus a Democratic pediatrician... Congressional District 3 features longtime GOP veteran Dan Lungren in a tough fight to keep hold of his seat in a district where the registration numbers have been trending Democratic of late... Assembly District 37, a good district for a Republican, features a GOP candidate who's announced he may miss half of the two-year Assembly term on active military duty... State Senate District 28, where the Democratic incumbent died but is still on the ballot... and, oh yeah, those complicated nine ballot propositions -- many of which have been struggling in the polls.
Good luck, voters. Check back tonight and tomorrow for more on how it all played out.