In my 20 years of waging California GOP campaigns, I’ve never seen turnout trends quite like those shaping up for 2014. As more surveys are conducted, it appears that California voter turnout could drop below 45%, possibly even lower than 40%.
Democrats have little interest in this election. Republicans are more motivated, but the wildcard is “no-party-preference” voter turnout, where surveys indicate a growing interest in the election.
In November, “no party preference” voters could come close to 25% of the overall turnout – at least 5 points higher than years past.
What’s that mean?
First, this group of unaffiliated voters will likely decide the close contests – including California’s State Controller race, where Republican Ashley Swearengin has put her strong independent streak on full display. Non-partisan voters gravitate to candidates who they feel validate their decision to eschew the party-line vote.
It also means that Republicans have to throw out the old formulas. One respected GOP consultant recently opined that to win, a GOP candidate needed 95% of the Republicans, 2/3rds of the Independents, and 1/3 of the Democrats. But that math fails to read the trends influencing this election.
In fact, a winning formula looks like 85% of the GOP vote, 55% of the “Decline to State” vote, and 20% of the Democratic vote. That’s the same mix that elected Governors Pete Wilson and George Deukmejian.
In the Controller’s contest, Swearengin’s case is helped by the fact that she’s gained the endorsement of every single major newspaper in the State, except for the San Francisco Chronicle.
It also helps that Swearengin brings with her a rock-solid Central Valley voter-base, a hyper-motivated part of the electorate that views the water-bond as essential to their future.
And it also helps that voters are growing leery of the risks of one-party government, in response to the ongoing parade of Legislative indictments, contracting scandals, and scathing auditor reports that extend even to the Controller’s Office itself.
Every election brings different opportunities. 2014 presents the GOP with a very strong chance at winning one or more statewide contests. And in Swearengin, the GOP presents a genuinely strong candidate with proven ability to attract the Independent and Reagan Democrat voters. Now, it’s up to GOP donors to recognize the opportunity and bring home a statewide win.
(Tim Clark is campaign manager for Ashley Swearengin. He has been a GOP campaign consultant for 20 years. He served as Campaign Manager for Steve Poizner’s Insurance Commissioner race. Poizner is the last California Republican to win a statewide down-ticket contest.)