Going into the 2010 election cycle — the last election in which candidates will run in districts drawn in 2001 – the biggest story is the plummeting Republican voter registration throughout California.

Not only is the current statewide Republican registration of 31% a historic low, but for the first time there is not a single congressional, state senate or assembly district that has a majority Republican registration.

Back in 2001, when the redistricting mapmakers gerrymandered the 80 assembly districts in an attempt to keep the status quo of 50 safe Democratic districts and 30 safe Republican seats, five of the assembly districts had solid Republican majorities and an additional five had a GOP registration of between 48 – 50 percent. Today, it’s zero majority districts and only two with GOP registration over 48 percent (Jean Fuller, AD32; Jeff Miller, AD71).

On the congressional level, there were three Republican majority districts in 2001 and an additional four with GOP registration between 48 – 50 percent. Today, zero majority districts and only one district between 48 and 50 percent (Kevin McCarthy, CD22).

While GOP registration has tumbled, voters who register Decline to State (DTS) have increased significantly. Democratic registration statewide in 2001 was 45 percent; today it is 44.55%. DTS registration was14.5% in 2001; today it is 20%.

As a result of this continuous increase in voters registering DTS, there are now 14 congressional districts and 21 assembly districts where Decline to State voters OUTNUMBER those who are registered Republicans.

A recent Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) statewide poll asked the question: Do you think of yourself closer to the Republican Party or Democratic Party? Forty seven percent replied Democratic Party, while those responding Republican Party or neither (volunteered) tied at 23 percent each.
The consequence of all this is that several districts that were gerrymandered in 2001 to be safe Republican are now no longer safe.

In November 2008, Barack Obama outpolled John McCain in EIGHT of the nineteen congressional districts currently held by a Republican, FIVE of the fifteen Republican-held senate districts, and TWELVE of the twenty-nine Republican-held assembly districts. McCain carried no Democratic-held district.

At the national level, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the political arm of House Democrats, has announced that they will target these eight “Obama GOP” districts in 2010. They are CD3 (Dan Lungren), CD24 (Elton Gallegly), CD25 (Buck McKeon), CD26 (David Dreier), CD 44 (Ken Calvert), CD45 (Mary Bono Mack), CD48 (John Campbell), and CD50 (Brian Bilbray).

While it is unlikely that they will actually target all eight, there is little doubt that at least two or three will be on the national target list. National Democrats have already funded radio commercials attacking Lungren in CD3 and Calvert in CD44. (see my earlier Fox and Hounds post: How the GOP hung on to CA Congressional seats in 2008).

The twelve Obama GOP assembly districts are AD5 (Roger Niello), AD26 (Bill Berryhill), AD 30 (Danny Gilmore), AD33 (Sam Blakeslee), AD36 (Stephen Knight), AD37 (Audra Strickland), AD38 Cameron Smyth), AD63 (Bill Emmerson), AD64 (Brian Nestande), AD70 (Chuck Devore), AD74 (Martin Garrick), and AD75 (Nathan Fletcher).

The soon-to-be elected state chair of the California Democratic Party, John Burton, will have his crosshairs on all of these districts, especially those that will be open seats in 2010 due to the incumbent being termed out. The open seats are: ADs 5, 33, 37, 63, and 70.

Among the five Obama GOP senate districts, four are odd-number districts not up for election in 2010; the fifth is SD12, which Republican Jeff Denham must give up due to term limits. Since Denham was reelected to that seat in 2006, GOP registration has dropped four points while DTS registration has increased by three and Obama carried the district by a margin of 18 points (58% – 40%). Democrats will spend whatever it takes to bring that district into the Democratic column.

In fact, look for 2010 to become one of the most competitive November General Election campaigns since the current lines were drawn in 2001. The question now is, will the California Republican Party have sufficient numbers, dollars, and political smarts needed to put up a good fight?