While that may be right as far as individual ballot measures are concerned – although things can shift in a hurry as more people start paying closer attention – those poll numbers do show that California is becoming an increasingly inhospitable spot for Republicans.
That’s California, where Ronald Reagan got his start and where Republicans have controlled the governor’s office for 22 of the past 29 years.
It’s not news that times have been tough for the GOP brand in California. Their registration is dropping. Democrats hold control of the Legislature, Jerry Brown is governor and there’s not a Republican to be found in statewide office.
How could things get worse?
Easily enough, if you look at some of the Field Poll results.
There’s never been any doubt that Barack Obama was going to carry California, a fact made clear during a recent trip to Reno. In just a few hours of watching television in Nevada, a true swing state, you can see more ads for Romney and Obama that you would in a week of viewing in California.
But there’s a difference between a solid win and a landslide and Obama, despite four years of crummy economic news, is moving toward swamping Romney in the state. The new poll showed him with a 58 percent to 34 percent lead over the Republican challenger, which isn’t far from the 61-37 pasting he handed John McCain in 2008.
Obama’s also leading Romney in every part of the state, except for a 48-48 tie in the Central Valley, a growing Republican stronghold. The Democrat outpolls Romney among voters of every age range, ethnic group and education level. The only group where Romney leads is among Republicans, but even there, a higher percentage of Republicans back Obama than Democrats support Romney.
All these numbers show a marked improvement for Obama over polls taken earlier this year. His 61 percent favorability rating is as high as it was in October 2008, which is a whole lot of foreclosed homes ago.
Even worse for Republicans is that 52 percent of Californians – and huge majorities of Democrats (70 percent) and independents (61 percent) – see the country headed in the right direction under Obama’s Democratic leadership.
So what does that mean for California Republicans? If, as former House Speaker Tip O’Neill once said, “all politics is local,” why can’t the state GOP just ignore the likely disaster at the top of the ticket and focus on electing Republicans to Congress and the Legislature?
In a fund-raising e-mail sent out this week, GOP state Chairman Tom Del Beccaro tried to do that, ignoring Romney and warning that “Jerry Brown and the Sacramento liberals have FAILED California.”
The only answer, he said, is to raise the money “to elect more Republicans to the State Senate and Assembly to thwart Governor Brown’s power.”
But it’s not that easy. Someone voting for Obama isn’t likely to be backing conservative Republicans like Rep. Dan Lungren in suburban Sacramento County or Tony Strickland, the former state senator running for Congress on the Ventura-Los Angeles county border.
National Democratic leaders, attempting the long shot task of taking back the House from the GOP, have made California a focus of their effort. The growing likelihood of Obama matching his 2008 showing in the state is bad news for the targeted Republicans.
In the Legislature, the Democrats are probably even money to grab a two-thirds majority in the state Senate and have an outside shot of doing the same in the Assembly, although that’s probably not the way to bet. But a surge of Obama voters could make those tasks simpler.
For California Republicans, the key is to keep talking about how tough times are in the state and point fingers at the Democrats. That’s what Del Beccaro keeps trying to do, warning that “California remains at the top of all the wrong lists, like the state with the most debt and third highest unemployment rate.
It didn’t work two years ago, though, and if the polls are to be believed, it isn’t working now. And if California Republicans can’t convince the state’s voters to abandon Democratic leadership when times are bad, what’s going to happen to the minority party when the economy turns around, as it inevitably will?
John Wildermuth is a longtime writer on California politics.