In May, when Representative Mike Garcia won a special House election in suburban Los Angeles, it was the first time since 1998 that the GOP had reversed a Democratic-held House seat in the state. It had been even longer, since 1994, that the Republicans had eliminated an outgoing member of the House. Again in this month’s election, they’ve done it three times already – Republican Michelle Steel defeating Democratic Rep. Harley Rouda in a coastal district of Orange County, Rep. Young Kim sending Rep. Gil Cisneros, and former Rep. David Valadao defeating Democratic Rep. TJ Cox to reclaim his seat in the Central Valley.
Garcia is currently racing ahead of Democrat Christy Smith in a race that remains too close to call.
“The pendulum is moving backwards,” said Jim Brulte, former chairman of the California Republican Party and longtime legislative leader. “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. It’s not just physics. It is also political. And I think you’ve started to see the reaction to the Democrats’ full control in California.
It’s an intoxicating assessment in a state where Democrats occupy all state positions and supermajorities in the legislature – and the last Republican presidential candidate to be elected George HW Bush in 1988 – across the ladder of the State, a margin that has increased since 2016.
Yet not long ago the California Republican Party was deregistered for death. Her success this month not only added to the dismal election of Democrats across the country, it dealt a heavy blow to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s delegation to her home state, a flagship of the Democratic Party. More importantly, he recalled how volatile portions of the political landscape remain even in California, a state that will be critical halfway through two years from now.
“This suggests that no one should sign the death certificate for the Republican Party of California yet,” said Darry Sragow, longtime Democratic strategist and publisher of the non-partisan California Target Book, which cripples elections in the state.
Nowhere has the Republican Party rally been more evident than in Orange County, a former citadel of conservatism that Democrats ultimately have cracked in 2016. Hillary Clinton became the party’s first presidential candidate to carry the county since 1936, then he overthrown two years later – Democrats sweeping all four congressional races in Orange County. Last year, registered Democrats overtook Republicans there.
But this month, Rouda and Cisneros, whose district includes part of the county, both lost their seats to Republicans, at least one of whom, Steel, appears to have outperformed Trump in his district, data shows. by Target Book.
For Republicans, this was the kind of result that hinted at a future for the party in the post-Trump era. The icing on the cake was the fact that the party’s victories came in a high-turnout presidential election – normally disastrous for the GOP in California – after Republicans for years opposed efforts to facilitate the election. vote. The participation rate in the state was to reach around 80%.
Recalling how many times California In recent years, Republicans had suffered from criticism that “you could only win because we had an all-time high turnout, or you can win a special election, but not in general,” Jessica Millan Patterson, Party Chair State Republican said, “This should be a real wake-up call for Democrats in California. … We had a record participation rate and we were able to flip … maybe four seats in Congress.
The party’s gains in the House reflected the GOP’s improvement nationwide in congressional races, with Republicans relinquishing some of California’s most competitive seats they lost two years ago. But Republicans across the state have also stepped up their voter registration and mail-ballot collection efforts, adopting some of the same practices, including what critics call “ballot harvesting,” which the Democrats used.
In some ways, the Republican victories on the downside have had the effect of reversing the traditional post-election scenario in California. For years, Republicans have worked around their many losses in the House, legislative contests and statewide races and instead highlighted their success in local contests as evidence of growth.
But in Orange County this week, the local Democratic Party was promoting the election of more Democrats, including women and people of color, to local governing bodies, while noting that Biden wore the county with a larger margin – 9 percentage points – than Clinton.
Orange County Democratic Party chair Ada Briceño called the result a “mixed bag”, while warning against reading lessons for 2022. House Democrats have performed poorly across the country, not just in California, in large part because of the turnout driven by Trump.
“I think Donald Trump has kind of created chaos over our poll results that we are seeing, and I think we will come to some sort of normalcy after Trump,” she said. “California is California. … We are a very progressive place.
Amanda Renteria, who was the national political director of Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2016 and who ran unsuccessfully against Valadao in 2014, said in this House district, there was “not as much energy on the ground as in 2018,” in part because Democrats were more focused on the presidential election in swing states.
Additionally, she said, the coronavirus pandemic had the effect of delaying a Democratic message on the economy that could have resonated in rural areas such as the Central Valley, or with Latinos – a group with which Trump has made modest strides and makes up about 40 percent of California’s population.
“It’s no longer about telling the story of the Prop. 187, ”she said, referring to the 1994 initiative to restrict services to undocumented immigrants – a move widely criticized for the GOP’s long decline in California. “It’s from a different era and a different era.”
Instead, Renteria said, “We need to start thinking about a real Latin American economic agenda and showing tangible results.”
Statewide, there is no evidence that Democrats have anything to fear, with registered party voters outnumbering Republicans in the state, nearly two to one. Given those calculations, some House Republican pickups should have been expected after the GOP’s ranks were reduced to seven of the state’s 53 congressional seats in 2018.
“It is not an 80% Democratic state,” said Garry South, a longtime Democratic strategist in the state. “It was inevitable that two years later the Republicans would try to reclaim some of those seven lost seats, and they did. … But let’s be honest, that still leaves them only 11 out of 53 seats. “
He said, “Is that something to pop champagne corks?”
It’s not – yet. But the Democratic Party’s House majority is narrow enough that House races here are critical in two years, when Republicans have a credible chance to reclaim the House. A presidential party traditionally loses seats in the first half of the year. And for Republicans in California, there is finally some hope.
Democratic state governor Gavin Newsom beat his Republican opponent John Cox two years ago by around 3 million votes and enjoyed strong public approval. But he’s been the best lately because of the controversy surrounding his attendance at a fancy restaurant birthday party amid the pandemic. San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, a moderate Republican, recently said he was “seriously considering” running for governor.
Patterson said it was the 2022 election – against Newsom – where the GOP could make its mark. There are others heavily Democratic states with Republican CEOs, such as Vermont and Massachusetts. California had a Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, as recently as 2011.
“I believe 2020 was about to set the table, and 2022 is when we can really restore balance in California,” Patterson said. “If we’re able to recruit a candidate who can come forward and win in California, that’s when we’ll find the balance.”