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California election 2022: Six things we’re watching

San Francisco Chronicle 11/7/2022 By Joe Garofoli, Shira Stein, Sophia Bollag and Dustin Gardiner
The impact of donations from oil companies on local races, control of Congress, the fate of abortion access across the country and whether a Republican can win statewide office in California are all outcomes to watch for on Tuesday. © "Gabrielle Lurie/The Chronicle; J. Scott Applewhite/AP; Charles Dharapak/AP; Clara Mokri/Special To

The impact of donations from oil companies on local races, control of Congress, the fate of abortion access across the country and whether a Republican can win statewide office in California are all outcomes to watch for on Tuesday.

Tuesday marks the end of a bitter midterm election cycle in California, one where a lack of competitive races at the top of the ticket was easily overshadowed by the polarizing battle for power in Washington and a deluge of spending on state ballot measures.

From whether a Republican wins statewide office in California for the first time in 16 years to how legislative races could affect the price of gasoline, here’s what our politics team is paying attention to on Election Day.

Which party will control Congress?

Democrats are facing an especially tough election cycle when it comes to congressional seats. Democrats have just 159 solidly blue seats to 188 Republican seats in the House of Representatives, according to the Cook Political Report. To win a majority of the House, a party needs 218 members.

California could be the deciding factor in the House. “California has at least 10 competitive House seats this time,” said Chris Meekins, managing director for Washington health care policy at banking firm Raymond James. “The size of the majority very much could depend on the California results.”

Those seats are largely in Southern California, but one in San Joaquin County could also turn the tide one way or another. Rep. Josh Harder is in a tough race against San Joaquin County Supervisor Tom Patti where the candidates are focused on issues like jobs and inflation, not abortion rights.

Control of the 50-50 Senate is a much closer contest, with Democrats having 14 members up for re-election and Republicans having 21. Just four races — in Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and Pennsylvania — could determine the balance of power in the chamber.

How big will the win for Proposition 1 be?

Democrats believe there is a less-than-zero chance that Proposition 1 — which would enshrine abortion rights in California’s Constitution — will fail. But abortion rights advocates want it to win big.

They want to make a national statement about the state that just approved more than a dozen pieces of legislation supporting abortion providers and patients and whose budget included more than $200 million in additional funding for reproductive health services. How big? They want it to pass with at least 60% support. Their challenge: Only 45% of voters knew abortion was on the ballot, according to their internal polls a few weeks before Election Day.

Some hope that margin is even wider. Mini Timmaraju, national president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, told The Chronicle that “if you pass a ballot initiative like this at 70%, think of what that does for Gov. Newsom and the Legislature to push the most progressive, aggressive reproductive freedom agenda in the country.” That might be a stretch. It’s hard to imagine that level of support for a beautiful sunset in these polarized times.

Will a Republican win statewide office?

It hasn’t happened since 2006, and one of the two Republicans who won that year had the universal name recognition that came with being a sitting governor named Arnold Schwarzenegger. (The other was multimillionaire Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner.)

The Republican with the best chance to break that dry spell Tuesday is Lanhee Chen. He is vying with Democrat Malia Cohen to replace termed-out Democrat Betty Yee as controller, California’s chief fiscal officer who holds the power to audit any government agency that spends state funds. Chen raised $5 million, nearly twice what Cohen did, and won most of California’s top newspaper editorial board endorsements.

But the most daunting number Chen faces is one he could do little about: 47% of California’s registered voters are Democrats, roughly twice the number of Republicans.

Will Sacramento vote to crack down on street encampments?

Sacramento voters on Tuesday will weigh in on a ballot measure that would increase clearing of homeless encampments, something that supporters of the measure say could be replicated in other cities or at the state level in 2024.

If enacted, Measure O would require the city to increase its number of emergency shelter beds and also force it to clear encampments of homeless people on city streets. If voters approve the measure, it would take effect only if city leaders reach a deal with Sacramento County that would put the county on the hook to help provide services for homeless people.

The measure is backed by business groups, who are funding the campaign to support it. They say it will force the city to do something to get homeless people into housing. Civil rights and homeless advocates argue the measure is really aimed at getting homeless people out of sight, not about helping them.

The measure could run into legal trouble. A landmark federal court case, Martin v. Boise, forbids governments from clearing homeless encampments unless officials offer the people living there shelter first.

Local governments’ inaction on homelessness last week provoked Gov. Gavin Newsom to withhold $1 billion in state funding because he says their plans to get people off the streets don’t go far enough. Newsom’s action provoked criticism from city leaders, including Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and San Francisco Mayor London Breed, who say taking money from local governments won’t help the state solve its worsening homelessness crisis.

After huge outside spending and new alliances, who will be Oakland’s mayor?

We will be watching Oakland’s mayoral race tallies Tuesday, but don’t expect to know the winner until later in the week.

It started as a race filled with candidates whom voters didn’t know or had forgotten. But that changed after labor-funded independent expenditure committees spent more than $800,000 on first-term Council Member Sheng Thao and others supporting a coal export terminal in Oakland dropped more than $550,000 on former Council Member Ignacio De La Fuente. First-term Council Members Loren Taylor and Treva Reid formed an alliance, urging their supporters to put the other as their second choice on Oakland’s ranked-choice ballot.

Polls show Taylor and Thao in a dead heat, but anything could happen in a 10-candidate field after the ranked-choice votes are sifted. Just ask former state Sen. Don Perata, who won the most first-place votes in Oakland’s 2010 contest, but lost to Jean Quan.

Will oil-backed candidates prevail?

The outcomes of eight key state legislative races, from Sacramento to San Diego, could determine whether California leaders have the political will to adopt a tax on the windfall profits of oil companies.

Industry groups spent about $6 million to influence legislative races that could determine the fate of such a proposal. Newsom, environmentalists and oil companies will be closely watching to see whether that investment paid off for the industry — or if it backfired and turned voters off to their chosen candidates.

In early October, Newsom announced plans to call a Dec. 5 special session for lawmakers to consider his proposal to tax unprecedented oil company profits and return the money to taxpayers in the form of a rebate. He said the move would help combat alleged “price gouging” amid soaring gas prices. Soon after, oil companies began pouring money into legislative races, supporting candidates the industry perceives as favorable to its argument that such a tax would raise prices for consumers and kill jobs (though some candidates have disavowed the industry’s spending on their behalf).

Environmentalists say they worry the onslaught of outside money could have a chilling effect on incoming legislators; about a third of the Legislature will be new due to term limits and a deluge of retirements.

As the dust settles from election night, watch for Newsom to face pressure to finally release details of his tax proposal and get it moving through the Capitol. But he could face a tough road, especially if a national “red wave” for Republicans trickles down to more oil-friendly legislators in Sacramento.

Joe Garofoli, Shira Stein, Sophia Bollag and Dustin Gardiner are San Francisco Chronicle staff writers. Email:,,, Twitter: @joegarofoli, @shiramstein, @SophiaBollag, @dustingardiner

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