Republicans have just 11 members of California’s congressional delegation, and Nevada County has the dubious distinction of being represented by two of them. Like most elected Republicans in the state, they are both white guys.
This is not a good look in the state with the nation’s most diverse population and is illustrative of the party’s dilemma in the Golden State: The GOP has broad support on many of the issues it backs, but has trouble finding candidates people will actually vote for outside of the state’s most conservative areas.
November’s election results illustrated the problem. On the one hand, California voters sided with Republicans on seven of the 11 state propositions where the state party took a position. On issues like rent control, affirmative action, property tax increases and letting gig workers remain independent contractors, Californians stood with the GOP. The state Democratic Party had four wins and seven loses.
On the other hand, the Democrats maintained a super majority in the state Legislature, just 11 Republicans were elected among the state’s 53 House members, and Joe Biden racked up a five million vote edge over Donald Trump. No Republican has been elected to statewide office in 14 years.
But being right on the issues gives the GOP hope going forward. Republicans won’t have to face Kamala Harris when her U.S. Senate seat comes up next year, and Republicans are hopeful voters will turn on Democrats in toss-up districts as they tire of whipsawing coronavirus rules and dysfunctional government.
Then there’s Gov. Gavin Newsom. Until recently the upcoming Golden Boy of Democratic politics, he has suffered from melt-downs at the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Employment Development Department, and the snail-like roll out of the COVID-19 vaccine.
People pushing for Newsom’s recall think he’s particularly vulnerable on the administration’s yo-yo approach to slowing down the pandemic, and its fumbled rollout of vaccines. Newsom appears to be feeling the heat, loosening up on restrictions and now saying teachers don’t need to be vaccinated in order to reopen schools.
Recall backers have submitted less than 600,000 of the 1.5 million valid signatures they need by St. Patrick’s Day to force a recall, and it remains to be seen if Californians want to spend $100 million to recall a governor a year before he has to stand for reelection. Besides, there’s no telling what could happen in the free-for-all contest for governor a recall would trigger. We might end up with some second-tier Hollywood actor as governor. Somebody like Arnold Schwarzenegger.
If Newsom has to face a recall, it is unlikely he’ll lose given the Democrats big majority in the state. But Newsom’s poor performance since becoming governor may make life difficult for Democrats farther down the ticket in 2022.
“I would say continue to underestimate us at your own peril,” said Jessica Patterson, chair of the California Republican Party. “California Democrats have shown they are not focused on making our state great. They are focused on a radical left agenda that is not working for most Californians.”
The challenge for the party is to find candidates who will appeal to voters outside the state’s conservative strongholds. It has been clear in recent years that white guys taking conservative social positions can’t get the job done in California.
Part of the solution is to recruit more candidates who reflect California’s electorate, said Suzette Martinez Valladares of Santa Clarita, the only Republican to flip a Democratic-held state Assembly seat in November. She’s 39, Latina, and doesn’t come from the corporate world.
“There’s been a narrative of what Republicans look like, sound like and care about. And that’s not true in the California Republican Party now, and we’re seeing that through my election,” she said. “I’m a Latina, I’m a mom of a three-year-old. I’m a Millennial.”
Valladares was recruited to run by other elected Republican women and Patterson, who is also a Latina. House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield sought out candidates who reflected the changing demographics of their districts. That led to the victories of Young Kim and Michelle Steel, two Korean-Americans who ousted incumbent Democrat congressmen Gil Cisneros and Harley Rouda in districts with heavy Asian populations.
Like other trends in the country, Californians may be leading the way. In conducting an autopsy of the 2020 elections, veteran GOP operative Karl Rove noted: “Republicans learned that diversity is a winner as female and minority candidates won many of their congressional and state legislative victories.”
Then there’s the issue of redistricting. While the U.S. Census hasn’t tabulated the final population totals yet, it is likely California will lose at least one congressional seat. Like a game of musical chairs, incumbents will be forced to face each other if they want to stay in the House. All of the state senate and assembly districts will also have to be redrawn.
How this plays out in a Republican Party that has become a haven for disillusioned whites and is still dominated by Trump backers remains to be seen. After all, Trump got more votes in California than any other state, McCarthy has backtracked on Trump’s involvement in the Capitol riot, and just one of the state’s GOP congressional representatives voted for impeachment.
White men figure to top the Republican ticket if there’s a recall, and in the 2022 general election. John Cox, who was trounced by Newsom in 2018, and San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer are the only candidates to announce for governor if there is a recall.
Most observers think Faulconer is the stronger candidate, but he’s your basic RINO: A pro-choice, pro same-sex marriage believer in climate change who says he didn’t vote for Trump.
We’ll see how well that goes over with the Trump diehards.
Observations from the center stripe: Deja vu edition
WILL REP. Tom McClintock run for governor again if Gavin Newsom is forced to face a recall? Then a state senator, McClintock ran for governor when Gray Davis was recalled in 2003 and finished third in a crowded field behind Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante…THE UC system has a record number of freshman applicants. You might as well give it a shot since you don’t have to take the SAT test anymore…HOW SHOULD I feel about reports that a lot of workers in hospitals and nursing homes won’t take the COVID-19 vaccine? Concerned is one word that comes to mind…I KNEW I was getting old when I realized Bill Clinton was the first president in my life time who was younger than me. I’m feeling younger now that we have a new president who’s older than I am…AFTER WATCHING a year’s worth of TV interviews from the homes of people, I’ve concluded that 90% of Americans have white, built-in book shelves…