The November election has brought a lot of Republican handwringing and a lot of advice from Democrats and the media how we need to change our extreme positions to be closer to the Democratic positions. We’re told that this is a recent phenomenon, but isn’t this the same advice we got in 1994 after Prop. 187?
I’m certainly not against the Republican Party re-evaluating our positions and our message. But let’s not fool ourselves. We can gain a few seats, but we’re not going to starting winning statewide elections. We haven’t been viable statewide in 40 years. This situation is nothing new.
When discussing Republican prospects in California people often cite GOP performance in the 70’s and 80’s in Presidential elections. What they fail to mention is that the two Presidents who won were Californians and the other two candidates were their Vice Presidents. This wasn’t reflected in statewide races.
Here are the GOP two party percentages for statewide offices since 1974:
The senate election in 1976 is included in 1978, 1980 is included in 1982, 1988 is included in 1990, 1992 is included in 1994, 2000 is included in 2002, and 2004 is included in 2006.
* - The 2006 number excludes gubernatorial election. Arnold Schwarzenegger was never identified with the Republican Party and his stardom was separate from the party.
Republicans have been between 43% and 45.8% in 8 out of 10 election periods. That's remarkably consistent. The 1990 number is higher because it includes two Pete Wilson elections, 1988 for senate and 1990 for governor, and 1994 was a big GOP wave. Wilson and Schwarzenegger show that if Republicans have a star who transcends party they can win an election. Unfortunately, we don’t have a star like that right now, let alone five or six to run statewide.
Here are the statewide offices the GOP has won:
1978: AG, LG,
1982: governor, senate
1990: governor, AG
1994: governor, AG, secretary of state, treasurer, insurance commissioner
1998: secretary of state, insurance commissioner
2006: governor, insurance commissioner
Four of these elections were won by Pete Wilson and three by George Deukmejian. If we set aside the anomalous 1994 election we have only two Republicans, Dan Lungren in 1990 and Steve Poizner in 2006, who’ve won initial elections since 1982. The rest were won by incumbents.
People will recall how we had 15-17 senate and 30-32 assembly seats during much of this period. That’s true, but that was largely due favorable maps. One of the biggest reasons the GOP lost seats this year is that the maps weren’t drawn to protect our districts.
I’m libertarian, so I’m all for a shift in our party’s stance on immigration but we need to keep in mind that becoming Democrats light isn’t going to make us more attractive than the Democrats and that our position isn’t some recent phenomenon that can be changed with a shift in message or position.
This idea ignores something that is borne out in the voting totals. These aren’t the California Democrats of the 1980’s. That party had working class people in the defense industry. This one is loaded with progressives who’ve flocked to California to work in the tech industry. We could win votes from people at Litton. We are unlikely to win votes from people at Yahoo! No matter how bad a job Democrats in Sacramento do, their supporters won’t turn to the GOP. On the contrary. They’ll find a way to say it’s our fault.
The GOP may be a point or two worse right now than we have been since 1974. So, yeah, we can work hard and get back to 44-45% statewide. That won't win us any statewide elections but maybe it'll get us back to 30 seats in the assembly. This is nothing new. We haven’t recently started losing. We've been in the same spot for almost all of the last 38 years and no matter how we change that'll continue.