This week we learned the final results in Yolo County. The only race that was really in possible doubt was Nishi, but finalizing Yolo County gives us one more opportunity to look at the 4th Assembly District and explore possible clues into Dan Wolk’s demise.
Defenders of Dan Wolk will point to two factors that contributed to his loss – the massive independent expenditure (IE) campaign that backed Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, and the presence of Don Saylor. We cannot discount either factor. Without the massive IE campaign, there is no way that Cecilia Aguiar-Curry would be sitting in position to become the next Assemblymember from the 4th AD.
Likewise, if you assume that Don Saylor’s 14,699 votes would have automatically gone to Dan Wolk, then clearly that played a role. Dan Wolk only finished 2000 votes out of first, so even if a bare plurality of Don Saylor’s vote went to Dan Wolk, it would have put him in the finals.
However, there is a difference to be made here.
This is the county by county total in the race. The first thing that jumps out of the pages is that Dan Wolk finished third in every county but Yolo County. When we broke out Davis from the rest of Yolo County, we found that Dan Wolk finished a commanding first in the city where he is mayor. But he finished third in the rest of the county.
In fact, the rest of the county looks a lot more like the rest of the district than it does like Davis. Indeed, countywide outside of Davis, Cecilia Aguiar-Curry did better than she did districtwide, as did Charlie Schaupp. Neither of those results should be surprising as all of the candidates this time were from Yolo County. Don Saylor and Dan Wolk actually did worse in Yolo County outside of Davis than they did districtwide.
What this suggests is that, while people from Davis seem to believe that having a representative from Davis is hugely important, the reality is that Davis is the outlier in the district.
In Davis, Dan Wolk got nearly 40 percent of the vote. Districtwide, he got just over a quarter, and, other than in Napa, he failed to crack a quarter of the vote in any other county. Davis is far less Republican than the rest of the county. Charlie Schaupp got the 28.5 percent of hardcore Republican vote districtwide, but that number dropped to just 10.9 percent in Davis.
So people can talk about the influence of IEs, and that certainly played a role both in 2014 and 2016, and they can talk about the split vote for the Davis candidates, but at the end of the day, this is a district that appears most likely to elect more moderate Democrats – unless all breaks well and Davis can clear the field for a liberal.
That brings up the second point. The IEs and split vote would only play a role if Dan Wolk failed to seize on his inherent advantages. The two largest cities in the district are Napa and Davis. The two largest counties are Napa and Yolo. In 2014, Bill Dodd took advantage of that and the fact that he was the only Napa candidate to defeat Dan Wolk.
But there was no Bill Dodd in the race in 2016. In fact, all five candidates were from Yolo County. Dan Wolk should have had a sizable advantage. He ran in 2014 and became known to the district. His mother has been a state legislator for all of this district and she has been in the legislature for 14 years.
Moreover, and with all due respect to Cecilia Aguiar-Curry and Don Saylor, this was a far weaker field than it was in 2014. In 2014, Dan Wolk was running against Napa County Supervisor Bill Dodd, among others. Mr. Dodd was a very strong candidate. He raised more money by himself than the top four candidates in 2014 put together.
Dan Wolk, in 2014, was the mayor pro tem, running against his own mayor. And Joe Krovoza put together a fairly strong campaign. He easily won Davis and finished a strong second in Yolo County. Compare that to County Supervisor and former Davis Mayor Don Saylor. Mr. Saylor, while running more strongly in Davis, still lost Davis to Dan Wolk by a 39.9 to 27.6 margin.
Don Saylor countywide did better than he did in any other county, but still finished fourth. He only cracked 15 percent in one other county – Sonoma – where he was again a distant fourth.
In short, we could argue that Dan Wolk actually did more poorly in 2016 than he did in 2014, especially when you account for the strength of the race. On paper, he should have been the favorite to finish in the top two, if not first, and yet he finished about where he did in 2014, third place.
While we can blame the IEs and the failure for the more liberal IEs to intervene on his behalf, a lot of this damage was self-inflicted. He didn’t raise that much more – he certainly raised far less than Bill Dodd or Joe Krovoza did in 2014. And, outside of Davis, he didn’t run a good campaign.
The bottom line, had Don Wolk raised his half-million and generated a strong campaign outside of Davis, he could have overcome the IE and split vote, especially against a field of candidates that on paper were not particularly robust.
—David M. Greenwald reporting