How ‘Down-Ballot’ Races Are Benefiting from the Anti-Establishment Wave

You may have heard the term “down-ballot” race this election cycle. For non-politicos this term denotes a contest for a political office that appears in a relatively low position on the electoral ballot, which typically lists contested offices in descending order from national to local.

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Why is this term so important in 2016?

The success of anti-establishment presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have not only driven record numbers of “non-traditional” voters to the primary that are not as predictable as party-line voters, but these voters are having a huge influence on down-ballot races.

So far, candidates that aren’t toeing the party line are reaping the benefits.

But what happens in a race with two Democratic candidates who aren’t considered establishment?

We’re about to find out in California’s 39th Assembly District, where former Democratic Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra is running against current Assemblywoman Patty Lopez, who took his seat in 2014.

There are 6 total Democratic candidates running for the seat (there are no Republicans in the race). However 50% of voters in the district are NOT registered with the Democratic Party. It’s likely that the candidate that does a better job reaching out to these voters will ultimately win the election.

Bocanegra represented the 39th District in the California State Assembly from 2012 to 2014. During his tenure, Bocanegra, a native of the San Fernando Valley, worked to build a coalition in the Assembly of independent-minded thinkers that could stand up to the establishment.

It was thought that his seat was very safe, especially in the heavily Democratic district. He focused on campaigning for moderate Democrats in other areas of the state in order to keep his coalition alive.

Bocanegra ... worked to build a coalition in the Assembly of independent-minded thinkers that could stand up to the establishment.
 

As it turns out, this was a mistake. In a shock to the political community he was narrowly defeated by political newcomer Lopez.

Ironically, Bocanegra was a big supporter of Proposition 14, which allowed Californians, regardless of their political affiliation, to vote for any candidate of their choosing in all state primaries, with the top two vote-getters (regardless of party) moving on to the general election.

It was this reform that created the conditions for the Democrat vs. Democrat race that originally pitted Bocanegra against Lopez.

Prop. 14 was a major step for increasing democracy in California and citizens’ ability to participate in all stages of the election. Bocanegra understood that even if it didn’t appear to be in the best interest of the party, it was in the best interest of California voters.

Now, Bocanegra is running again for the 39th District, challenging incumbent Patty Lopez and is using his experience to appeal to voters:

“I’m running for the State Assembly because the residents and small businesses of the Northeast San Fernando Valley deserve an experienced leader who will deliver results for our community.” – Raul Bocanegra, April 28 Facebook update

While serving in the California Assembly, Lopez has pushed for increased funding for education, introducing AB 1846 – legislation that would return adult education funding in California to pre-recession levels.

The race between two candidates who aren’t considered establishment creates an interesting paradox: align with the establishment and risk losing the “Bernie vote” or build a coalition among Republicans, independents, and anti-establishment Democrats.

Nonetheless, this phenomenon is what’s going to define the AD 39 election, and the candidate who has the most trouble navigating the independent waters will likely go down with their ship.