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Could Two Democrats Face Off In 2018 California Governor's Race Runoff?

Strava / Paul Mitchell

Strava / Paul Mitchell

At 1 a.m. on the night of the June 2016 primary, California’s most prominent political data guru stood naked outside the state Capitol.

“I said that there was no chance that two Democrats would make the runoff” in the state’s “top two“ U.S. Senate primary, recalls Paul Mitchell.

If they did, he’d vowed to streak around the Capitol. “And so I stripped down and did a quick lap.”

Half a mile, according to Mitchell, who tracked and posted his run on a social networking site for athletes.

Now, with three Republicans joining four Democrats so far in the race to replace termed-out Gov. Jerry Brown next year, there’s speculation the GOP could get shut out of the runoff again.

No way, Mitchell says.

It’s “kind of like if you’re playing poker, and your opponent hits a royal flush, you’re gonna start thinking every hand, oh my gosh, maybe they have a royal flush again,“ he says. “But the reality is, it’s very, very, very unlikely that that event will happen again.”

Last year was a perfect storm that led to California Democrats’ strongest primary turnout advantage ever.

The primary field pitted two strong Democrats against several weak Republicans. And while a competitive presidential primary sparked Democratic turnout, Donald Trump had already sewn up the GOP nomination by the time Californians voted.

Mitchell says that won’t replicate in 2018.

“It’s really, really, really hard to come up with a circumstance where – given the likely voter turnout in the primary – you would have the Republicans completely boxed out of the runoff.”

Although Democrats could see above-average turnout because of a party base energized by the fight against President Trump, the edge in midterm years historically goes to the GOP.

“You’re looking at a much fairer playing field for Republicans,“ he says, adding that it’s even possible a GOP candidate could finish first in the primary.

So would he streak around the Capitol again if he’s wrong?

“I’ll do the bet again, yeah, absolutely!”

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