For more than half a century, the Election Night fate of
California Republican candidates could be foretold early in the vote count: If
a Republican emerged from Orange County with a lead of 250,000 or more votes,
he or she would almost always win statewide office.
That’s what it took to overcome the big majorities
Democrats could count on in places like San Francisco and Alameda County.
But as things now stand, it’s virtually impossible for
any Republican to win the OC by that large a margin. At the same time, where
the state’s biggest county, Los Angeles, was once a tossup with voters inside
the LA city limits going strongly Democratic and suburbanites voting
Republican, that’s changed, too. Democrats now hold all but a few state
elective offices in Los Angeles County, both inside and outside the eponymous
But it’s in Orange County that Republican problems are
most obvious. The GOP held an 18 percentage-point voter registration lead over
Democrats as recently as 2001; today that edge has slipped to just 10 percent.
Registered Republicans still outnumber Democrats in the OC, but only by 583,625
to 442,378, according to the secretary of state
That’s a margin of about 140,000 – a far cry from that vital 250,000-vote
With about one-fourth of the county’s voters refusing to
choose a party label, Republicans would need a near sweep of the independent
vote to reach their once commonly attainable margin.
This matters to every Californian, not only because a
narrow victory in an Orange County district was a key factor in giving
Democrats their current two-thirds supermajority in the state Assembly, but
because it’s in the interest of everyone to have competitive political races.
Without that, there is little pressure on the dominant Democrats to compromise
on anything, little motive for them to resist the impulse to create new program
after new program, each costing tax dollars.
Yes, Gov. Jerry Brown might act as a check on this
proclivity – he has, so far – but he won’t be governor forever and other
Democratic prospects from Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom to wealthy civil rights lawyer
Molly Munger have never evinced the skinflint side Brown can display.
Every Republican politician in California admits the
party is on life support, with virtually no chance today in districts outside a
few in the inland parts of the state, including the Central Valley and several
parts of the Inland Empire, coastal Orange County and northern San Diego
Even some of those longtime strongholds are threatened
today. Example: San Diego, long a GOP bastion that’s home to many thousands of
conservative-leaning military retirees, now has a Democratic mayor.
It is mostly Latino voters that have transformed the
California political map, but even running an attractive, moderate Latino
Republican is often not enough to change things. The best example of this may
be what happened to Abel Maldonado in a Santa Barbara County congressional
district last fall. Maldonado, a former appointive lieutenant governor and
father of the state’s “top two” primary election system, ran a strong campaign
against incumbent Democrat Lois Capps, even seeming to win their debates. But
he still lost by 8 percent as the majority of independent voters in his
district spurned him.
It would take a sea-change in the state GOP’s attitude
toward illegal immigration to change Latino feelings about the party’s label,
negatively cemented in 1994 by then-Gov. Pete Wilson’s strong support for the
anti-illegal immigrant Proposition 187 and the draconian restrictions it sought
to place on the undocumented. The measure went so far as to deny emergency room
care to the sick and injured if they lacked proper papers.
It was no accident when more than 2.5 million Latinos
became naturalized citizens in the three years after that, almost all
registering as Democrats.
It was also no coincidence that the late ‘90s saw
congressional seats covering most of inland, northern Orange County start to go
Democratic on a regular basis. First in that trend was the narrow victory of
Democratic Latina Loretta Sanchez over Republican veteran Bob Dornan in 1996.
That’s emblematic of what has happened in most of the
state, which once had a nearly even split in its congressional delegation, but
now sees Democrats dominating by a lopsided 38-15 count.
The bottom line: To recover, Republicans must do
something (immigration amnesty beyond green cards for the highly educated would
be a start) to reverse their miserable image among Latinos. And they need to
start in their Orange County heartland.
Copyright © 2011 by Santa Monica Mirror. All rights reserved.