The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Loretta Sanchez is running for Senate in California. Here’s why Kamala Harris is still the favorite.

On Thursday, Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) announced that she would run for Senate to replace Barbara Boxer. In February, we wrote this article explaining why Latino candidates from Southern California -- then it was former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa -- would have had an uphill climb in a Democratic primary. This also applies to Sanchez, whose political network makes her even more of an underdog. For what it's worth, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee isn't picking sides.

It seems as though the former Democratic mayor of the largest city in California would have an easy path to statewide victory in a Democratic primary for U.S. Senate. After all, look at this map. It shows the percentage of total Democratic votes in the 2014 primaries by county. (On this map, as with the ones that follow, darker colors signify larger numbers.)

Since the real challenge to winning statewide office in California tends to be that you be a Democrat, this seems like a clear advantage. Throw in the fact that the mayor under discussion, Antonio Villaraigosa, is Latino, and it seems like a gimme.

But as the Los Angeles Times noted earlier this week, it isn't. Reporter Cathleen Decker quotes a Republican consultant: "The worst thing you can be is a male Latino Democrat from L.A. There is no vote base."

Here's why. Compare that map above with this one, that shows where Democrats lived in the state last year. (This is registered voters, thanks to our friends at Political Data.)

Notice that counties which are darker in the first map are lighter here -- particularly in the San Francisco Bay area in the middle left part of the state. Fewer Democrats, but a higher part of the Democratic vote? The problem in LA is turnout. We've outlined Los Angeles County in black below to make the point clearly.

The same holds true with Latinos. Here's what turnout among Latino voters looked like in last year's primaries, in each county.

As a result, many of the Latino voters in that primary came from outside of Southern California, including the Central Valley and Santa Clara County, just south of San Francisco.

Now, this is just the 2014 primary -- the lowest turnout in a state election in a very, very long time. But the trend was the same in the 2012 election.

Latino Democrats voted slightly more frequently in 2012 -- but not by much in Los Angeles.

California's primary cycle is weird. Everyone runs against everyone else, and the top two competitors from the primary, regardless of party, advance to the general election. Villaraigosa, in other words, needs to box out all of the other possible Democratic candidates, assuming that the minority party Republicans manage to get a viable candidate in the mix.

Villaraigosa's base is a low turnout group, even by the standards of Latino Democrats in California. In 2016, unlike in 2012 and 2014, there will be something driving Democrats to the polls: a contested Democratic presidential primary. (Assuming, you know, it hasn't been locked up by Illary-hay Inton-Clay.) But if you're trying to decide whether or not to jump into a race, it makes sense to think of it like diving off of the stage at a concert. Double-check that your people will be there to catch you.