Embattled Congressman Steve Knight’s unsteady performance in the June primary shows a serious weakness heading into the November election, where Democratic voters tend to show up in higher numbers. If history is a guide, the Palmdale Republican could face a forced retirement at the hands of voters.
Knight only garnered 51.8 percent of the vote in the June 5 open primary, and will face Democratic challenger Katie Hill in November. Hill earned her spot in the general election with 20.7 percent of the vote, and three other Democrats split the remaining 27.5 percent.
While some Knight supporters may take solace that he won a simple majority, history indicates Hill’s supporters may have more reason to celebrate. Hill no longer has to compete against other Democrats — and it’s very likely that voters in the general election will lean more Democratic.
“The general rule in California is that one would expect the primary turnout to be more Republican-leaning than the general election,” reports Kyle Kondik at Sabato’s Crystal Ball, one of the nation’s premier nonpartisan election websites.
Kondik analyzed the shift in voting patterns from the primary to the general election in every California congressional district in 2012, 2014, and 2016. The results paint a dim picture for Knight.
In 2012, the share of Democratic votes in the general election outpaced that year’s primary vote by a whopping 15.5 percent. That would be more than enough to erase Knight’s current lead over Hill.
More recently, in 2016, Democrats gained 2.5 percentage points between the primary and the general election. (There is no data from 2014, since Knight and another Republican advanced to the general election.)
True, those numbers are only from two past elections, since California’s top-two primary system is relatively new. But looking ahead, “one would probably expect the average Democratic vote share in most districts to rise from June to November,” Kondik writes. “That could help the Democrats in some of their targeted seats in November.”
Even if Democrats pick up the smallest margin from the past three election cycles, 2.5 points, Hill would emerge victorious with 50.7 percent of the vote in November. If the 2018 election looks more like the 2012 cycle, Knight would face a massive defeat, with Hill capturing 63.7 percent of the vote.
The 2018 primary already saw a surge of voters that almost doubled the turnout in the 2014 primary, ballooning to more than 118,000 cast ballots over 2014’s slightly more than 64,000. The 2018 primary even exceeded the vote total of the 2014 general election (114,072).
The motivation for the higher turnout may also worry Knight.
“The reason for the higher turnout is because of what’s going on in Washington D.C., not what’s happening in California,” says David McCuan, a political scientist at Sonoma State University.
Knight has been one of Trump’s most loyal acolytes in Congress, voting for the Trump agenda 99 percent of the time. Even when it may hurt his own constituents, Knight repeatedly sides with Trump over those he is elected to represent.
He supported a Republican health care bill that would have taken away protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions; he voted for an “age tax” that would have raised health insurance premiums for people aged 50-64; and he voted for a bill that would have caused 23 million Americans to lose health insurance.
And when Knight voted for the tax bill, he voted for a $12 billion tax hike on roughly one million Californians. Homeowners in Los Angeles will also see the cost of a 30-year mortgage increase by up to $76,000, thanks to a provision supported by Knight.
Issues Knight supports while he is in Washington, D.C., are having real-world impacts in California. And judging by the primary turnout, Californians are taking notice.