A final look a the 2012 election results suggest this was not nearly as a bad a year for Republicans in California as it could have been. But 2012 also shows why 2014 could be the year of total wipeout for California Republicans, with the loss of half or more of the legislators and members of congress they have today.
That’s because Californians are no longer ticket splitters. If there is no viable Republican candidate for governor, as seems the case today, lack of ticket splitting will doom Republicans to a massive defeat.
From the 1940s through the 1990s, Republicans regularly won at the top of the ticket but Democrats prevailed farther down. “I vote the man not the party,” was the mantra. No more. California’s electorate is highly polarized and people now vote one party from top to bottom with less and less crossover voting.
Consider that President Obama won California with 60 percent of the vote, and US Senator Dianne Feinstein won 62 percent. Mitt Romney received 37 percent, and Elizabeth Emken, the GOP Senate candidate, got 38 percent of the vote.
That pattern carried right down the ballot; Democratic legislative and congressional candidates ran at about Obama-Feinstein numbers while Republicans ran at Romney-Emken numbers. There are exceptions, but not many. Republicans won 25 Assembly districts; 22 were carried by Romney and 21 by Emken. Only three GOP legislators managed to win a district Obama carried, all narrowly. The closest legislative race in California, the 36th Assembly district, was carried by Feinstein with 50.1 percent, and by the Democrat for the Assembly by 50.1 percent.
With the guarantee that whoever votes will vote straight ticket, California elections are now a matter of turning out voters, not persuading them. And in 2012, there was no serious effort to turn out Republican voters. On the other hand, California’s Democratic Party, a wholly owned subsidiary of the public employee unions, has mastered a turnout mechanism to bring Latinos (and now Asians) to the polls in massive numbers. Republicans are so weak in California they cannot even perform the most basic task in politics, which is to turn out Republican voters. Democrats did not need an Obama turnout operation in 2012; the unions did it for them, aided by the perceived Republican hostility to Latinos that dates from Gov. Pete Wilson’s re-election in 1994.
This explains why numerous Democratic voting counties had a higher turnout than Orange County, the supposed GOP heartland. What passed for Republican campaigns in California in 2012 were conducted by business interests and national Republican forces. But they seem to have been oblivious to the turnout problem.
Proposition 32, to curb labor’s political clout, was headed for the June primary ballot but labor and their Democratic allies cleverly switched it to the November a ballot at the last minute where it proved a marvelous turnout tool for Democrats. Had the business community looked at the turnout impact of this switch they might have launched a referendum against SB 202, the bill making the shift, and thus kept the measure off the November ballot. Supporters of the measure had plenty of time to do so, but no one looked at how it would affect turnout, and they paid the price.
Instead, the State Chamber of Commerce and their business allies threw millions of dollars into various Republican races with the élan of World War I French generals. They suffered from dreadful polling and paid little attention to the mechanics of turnout. They wasted every single dollar, winning nary a contest.
So how is this a precursor for the coming Republican wipeout in 2014? With no candidate for governor, and there is none at this point, Republican voters will stay home. There will be no turnout operation, and straight ticket voting will drag down dozens of Republican candidates.
And the GOP faces an even worse problem than no candidate; a really horrible candidate, and one is ready to run. That would be Assemblyman Tim Donnelly (R-Twin Peaks), who in 2012 was charged with trying to bring a loaded handgun onto an airplane at Ontario Airport in violation of America’s anti-terrorism laws. He pled no contest, in effect admitting his guilt. He is now running to be the Republican opposing Gov Brown in 2014. Were he to somehow make the November runoff, Brown would probably win by 75 to 85 percent of the vote, and with straight ticket voting that would lead to defeat for probably half the 45 Republican members of congress and the legislature who will face the voters on the same ballot. One can only imagine the glee with which California Democrats would tie helpless Republican candidates to Donnelly’s violation of America’s anti-terrorism laws.
However, there is no reason Republicans should not be able to mount a credible campaign against Brown or another union-funded Democrat in 2014. At some point, the fiscal crisis of unsustainable public pensions that is forcing municipalities into bankruptcy has to be addressed. California’s economy remains sluggish and job creation is far behind other mega-states like Texas.
Most tellingly, there is simply no feeling anymore of upward mobility for the working class, especially for the burgeoning population of Latinos and Asians striving to move into the middle class. Democrats will do nothing to question whether schemes like cap-and-trade are achieving their goals or just spawning more bureaucratic regulations. What signs are there that Obamacare and California’s new health exchange will bring down the cost of health care for working people? And of course there is the Bullet Train to Nowhere, a peculiarly costly gift from the Brown Administration to organized labor that will never be paid for.
Attention to the basics of turning out voters before it is too late could help Republican officeholders and their business allies to avoid the egg-all-over-their-faces result of the 2012 fiasco.