Chatter at the Chamber: Political Insights at CalChamber’s Public Affairs Conference

Joel Fox

Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily


Do Republicans have a chance in California? Seems a pointless question given California’s dramatic political turn to those left, all constitutional offices in the hands of the Democrats and a two-thirds supermajority of Democratic legislators.

Still, at the California Chamber of Commerce Public Affairs Conference panel looking ahead to the 2018 elections, possibilities for the Republicans found some hope, if slim.

A poll done for the Chamber by PSB Research found under the generic question: Would you support a Democrat or a Republican for governor? the result was astoundingly close: 41% Democrat, 38% Republican.

What could account for such a result?

Republican consultant Richard Temple said Democratic actions in the legislature opened the door for Republicans. Bills that easily pass the progressive legislature are not mainstream concerns for the average voter.

Perhaps, as I’ve written before, we are inching closer to the Massachusetts model. That state is overwhelmingly blue, the legislature overwhelmingly Democratic, but frequently Bay State voters elect a Republican governor. Do they do so to keep a check on the legislature?

Yet, long time Democratic strategist and publisher of the well-regarded election guide, the California Target Book, Darry Sragow, said Republicans have little chance because of the make up of the electorate when weighed against the make up of the GOP. Sragow pointed out that only 38% of California’s population is white, while 70% of the state Republican Party is white. Until those numbers change, Sragow said, “The Republican Party is dead.”

Wilson Public Affairs boss Christy Wilson, who works with Republicans and the business community, said Republicans have opportunities but they undercut themselves with the average voters by inviting figures like former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio and former White House advisor Steve Bannon to Republican meetings, sending the wrong message to middle-of-the-road and independent voters.

If there are opportunities for Republicans none of the panelists think it will come in the governor’s race next year. Long time Democratic consultant Richard Schlackman joined Sragow, Temple and Wilson on the panel and all agreed that two Democrats would face each other for governor in the General Election.

Who might those Democrats be? Most panelists felt that current poll leader Gavin Newsom would make the run off, but that his move to the left to capture liberal Democratic voters may backfire in November. Temple said a Democrat who doesn’t move too far left could win against Newsom.

Sragow pointed to a litmus test issue for many Progressives—single payer health care, which Newsom endorsed—as a red herring issue. “Voters have health care,” he said. The single payer issue is not paramount for most voters.

Schlackman suggested it might behoove Newsom to work toward helping a Republican take the second spot in the primary. Gaming the opposition party is not unknown in California. Governor Gray Davis’s campaign got involved in the Republican primary for governor in 2002 to undermine former Los Angeles mayor Richard Riordan, who Davis saw as a more formidable adversary in the General Election.

Panelists warned not to underestimate Treasurer John Chang’s candidacy.

In the U.S. Senate challenge to Dianne Feinstein, the panelists questioned whether Kevin de León could generate the funding he needed to mount a credible campaign. Wilson also noted that Feinstein fits well with the voters in the state. As she put it “(Dianne Feinstein) voted her district—her district is the state of California.”

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