Crime concerns play major role in California primary

The issue of crime was consistently one of the top issues for California voters in polls ahead of the June primary, and it was the major topic in nationally watched races in the state.  

Before flying to Los Angeles, President Biden chimed in on the primary elections in seven states, including California. "I think the voters sent a clear message last night," said Biden. "Both parties have to step up and do something about crime as well as gun violence." 

The president went on to call for state and local governments to use money from the American Rescue Act to hire, retain and train more police officers. The remarks coming in the wake of San Francisco voters recalling District Attorney Chesa Boudin

"It’s ideology amongst the Democrats," said University of San Francisco political science professor, James Taylor. "Part, it’s in anticipation of the reliable pushback and backlash that will come in Republican campaigns highlighting soft-on-crimes Democratic policies as they’re perceived." 

Taylor said President Biden, in part, is trying to steer the Democrats’ messaging heading into November’s general election. California voters continually name crime and homelessness as major issues of concern and Republicans up and down the ballot honing in on it. "California voters are sick and tired of these soft-on-crime policies," said CA GOP chair Jessica Millan Patterson.  "They want to bring their streets back to safe a place, where they can live and thrive and build their families, in their communities." 

However, supporters of the progressive prosecutor movement and those calling for criminal justice reform say Boudin’s recall is not indicative of a greater trend. "This is a very mixed sort of result, difficult to draw conclusions from it--based on what we saw in San Francisco and statewide; reformers’ wins in Contra Costa county, Santa Clara and Alameda as well," said Max Szabo, a democratic strategist who works with progressive prosecutors like former San Francisco and current Los Angeles district attorney George Gascon. 

MORE: San Francisco's Mayor Breed weighs D.A. appointment options following Boudin's recall

Szabo points to strong showings from other progressive Bay Area prosecutors and incumbent attorney general Rob Bonta, as proof that many voters support criminal justice reform, despite Boudin’s ouster. "A lot of vitriol over candidates and personalities is getting us away from more meaty debate around policy and important issues for criminal justice system, safety, victims, and certainly for justice," said Szabo. 

A "tough on crime" message also a major part of the closely watched Los Angeles mayoral race. Billionaire developer Rick Caruso used the approach and millions of his own dollars in his campaign.  He will face progressive Rep. Karen Bass in the runoff in November. "They’ve sent a message, we are not helpless in the face of our problems, we will not allow this city to decline," Caruso told supporters on primary night. 

"This is a campaign about the strength and power that must be marshaled against the so-many crises that we face," said Bass.  "Strength and power can only come from the power of the people.