5 things we learned from the Inland Empire’s June 2022 primary – San Bernardino Sun

With votes still being counted, be careful what you take away from California’s 2022 primary election.

For example, it looked like Gov. Gavin Newsom would win Riverside County in September’s gubernatorial recall. But as more votes came in, Newsom’s lead vanished as the county became California’s largest to support the recall, which failed statewide.

That said, here are some early thoughts on the Tuesday, June 7 primary.

Tough-on-crime talk wins

George Soros and criminal justice reform weren’t on the ballot. You might think they were if you followed the sheriff and district attorney races in Riverside County.

Sheriff Chad Bianco campaigned as a law-and-order constitutionalist who stands up for public safety and against Sacramento elites who want to go easy on violent criminals. It looks like he’ll cruise to reelection against retired sheriff’s Capt. Michael Lujan, who entered the race late and struggled to match Bianco’s fund-raising and name recognition.

Bianco’s detractors condemn him as a rogue, anti-science, far-right extremist. He once was a dues-paying Oath Keepers member and he’s questioned the medical consensus on the coronavirus pandemic. In the end, it appears the enthusiasm of Bianco’s supporters — some have begged him to run for governor — won out.

In Los Angeles County, Sheriff Alex Villaneuva also embraced a tough-on-crime message that endeared him to conservatives. But it’s unclear whether that message will ultimately pay off for Villanueva.

Right now, Villaneuva, who has 33% of the vote, is on track to face former Long Beach police chief Robert Luna in a November runoff. The confrontational sheriff, who has made headlines for his clashes with journalists, critics and elected leaders, could be in trouble if Luna wins over voters who chose one of the other seven candidates in the primary.

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The “progressive prosecutor” model, which emphasizes social justice over a lock-’em-up mentality, suffered a setback with Tuesday’s recall of San Francisco DA Chesa Boudin. Similarly minded Los Angeles County DA George Gascón also could be headed for a recall.

Both of Hestrin’s opponents — appellate attorney Lara Gressley and Superior Court Judge Burke Strunsky — distanced themselves from Gascón, but they both supported reform concepts. Strunsky wanted to review old cases for overly harsh sentences and Gressley decried what she called a “win-at-all-costs” attitude in Hestrin’s office.

Hestrin tried to make his race about Gascón — he publicly criticized his LA counterpart — and Soros, a liberal billionaire who donated to Gascón and other progressive-minded DAs.

The DA noted an outside group that previously took Soros’ money campaigned for Strunsky, who countered that Soros never gave directly to his campaign and he has no control what independent expenditure committees do.

Hestrin has about 54% of the vote as of Friday, June 10, which means he’d win reelection outright and avoid a November runoff against Strunsky, who is currently in second.

Experience (and money) helps

Running for office is hard. Running for the first time is even harder.

That’s the takeaway from the results thus far for the Second District seat on the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors. Former Fontana City Council Member Jesse Armendarez and Cucamonga Valley Water District Board Member Luis Centina appear headed for a runoff in the race to succeed term-limited Supervisor Janice Rutherford.

Armendarez and Cetina are leading general contractor Eric Coker, boutique owner Nadia Maria Renner and nurse DeJonaé Shaw — all first-time candidates. Armendarez and Cetina, by contrast, raised the most money and had experience waging successful campaigns.

That said, holding public office doesn’t mean you’ll win another office. Just ask state Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino, who appears to have come up short in her bid to unseat San Bernardino County Supervisor Curt Hagman.

Assuming the results hold, Leyva will have suffered the same fate as Democratic congresswoman Gloria Negrete-McLeod, who left Capitol Hill to run for an open supervisor seat and lost to Hagman in 2014 and again in 2018.

In the 60th Assembly District — Perris, Moreno Valley and parts of Riverside, San Jacinto, and Hemet — Riverside County Board of Education Trustee Corey Jackson appears to have advanced to November by beating out fellow Democrat Esther Portillo, who didn’t hold public office but has a track record of political involvement and endorsements from Riverside’s current Assembly members Jose Medina and Sabrina Cervantes.

Trouble for Calvert?

Results so far show Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Corona, leading a field of five candidates in the 41st Congressional District, which stretches from western Riverside County to the Coachella Valley.

But a closer look shows possible warning signs for the Inland Empire’s longest-serving congressman. Currently, the combined votes of Democrats Will Rollins and Shrina Kurani outnumber Calvert’s in a district with a near-even split between GOP and Democratic voters, although Calvert runs about even with Democrats if you give him Republican candidate John Michael Lucio’s votes.

On Thursday, June 9, Kurani, an environmental engineer who’s currently in third, endorsed Rollins, a former federal prosecutor, in an attempt to unify the Democratic vote against Calvert. With Democrats fighting to retain control of Congress, they could see a pickup opportunity in the 41st.

While Calvert might have a bigger target on his back, he’s far from guaranteed to lose in November. Three decades in Congress give him widespread name recognition and a flush campaign account. A favorable national political environment for Republicans, who are favored to take back the House, also could help Calvert.

Gutierrez vs. Hewitt

With four candidates on the ballot, a November runoff was the likeliest scenario in the race for the Fifth District seat on the Riverside County Board of Supervisors.

Supervisor Jeff Hewitt and Moreno Valley Mayor Yxstian Gutierrez appear likely to face off. Gutierrez and Hewitt are first and second in the primary, respectively, but Gutierrez is well short of the simple majority needed to avoid a runoff.

The question now is who’s favored to win the seat representing the San Gorgonio Pass, Hemet, Lakeview, Moreno Valley, Nuevo, San Jacinto and part of Valle Vista. You could make a case for either candidate.

A plurality of Fifth District voters are Democrats and Gutierrez, a Latino Democrat, has the backing of the county’s deep-pocketed labor unions and could appeal to diversity-minded voters. Despite being 49% Latino, Riverside County has just one Latino supervisor.

Two-thirds of primary voters picked someone other than Hewitt. But the Libertarian could draw votes in November from supporters of Republican and Beaumont Mayor Lloyd White, who is currently fourth with 25% of the vote; add that to Hewitt’s votes and that would give the incumbent close to 60%.

Blue, but not indigo

Inland Empire Democrats have come a long way in 20 years. They’re now a plurality of registered voters in Riverside and San Bernardino counties, progressive lawmakers like Rep. Mark Takano, D-Riverside, and Assembly Majority Leader Eloise Gómez Reyes, D-Colton call the region home and Democratic presidential candidates have carried both counties since 2008.

But it’d be a mistake to confuse the Inland Empire with longtime liberal cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco. Look at the primary results for statewide offices.

Newsom and Sen Alex Padilla, D-California, are leading the pack. But while the Democratic governor had 56% of the statewide vote as of Friday afternoon, he had about 49% in Riverside County and 47% in San Bernardino County.

Padilla had 54% of the statewide vote for a six-year term as of Friday. But in Riverside and San Bernardino counties, his vote share dropped to 45% and 43%, respectively.

These percentages could go up as more votes are tallied.  If they don’t, they could point to Inland GOP voters who are more motivated and a more blue-collar Inland electorate that won’t automatically vote Democratic and is more sensitive to quality-of-life issues like inflation, high gas prices and crime — issues the GOP hopes to capitalize on in November.

Staff Writer Beau Yarbrough contributed to this report. 

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