The great tsunami has come and gone, and of all things the California Republican Party has survived. Hillary Clinton will carry California with over 62 percent, Donald Trump will be lucky to get 32 percent when all the ballots are counted. These terrible numbers should have led to massive down ballot GOP defeats but they did not.
Legislative Democrats targeted seven Republican-held Assembly seats, spending a roughly a million dollars in each district, and won only three of their targets. They targeted two State Senate districts and narrowly won one of them. They made serious runs against three GOP Congressmen and beat none.
Essentially, all the Democrats did is to return the legislature to the partisan ratios that were in place before 2014 when Republicans picked up seats in the Assembly and Senate.
Pre-election analyses, including by this author, suggested that if Clinton romped in California her coattails would carry in huge numbers of down ballot Democrats, but that did not happen. Contrary to recent elections, there was widespread ticket splitting in California. In Contra Costa and Alameda Counties, for instance, GOP Assemblywoman Catharine Baker managed a 56 percent win while Trump was running in the low 30s in her district.
Republicans running for local offices also did surprisingly well. A Republican supervisor in Orange County, who first won in a special election, narrowly won re-election. Thanks to his win, Republicans will hold all the supervisorial seats in Orange County. A Republican defeated the only Democrat on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors.
Perhaps this is a result of the unique Trump candidacy and the fact he never campaigned in this state and Republicans did not run for election as Trump acolytes. And in a number of areas with GOP officeholders Trump did reasonable well. Democrats targeted Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Stanislaus) trying to tie him to Trump, but the results show that Trump actually came close to carrying Denham’s district, and Denham won re-election with 52 percent.
Where Republicans did lose the fault seems not to have been Trump but rather the very pronounced decline in GOP registration over this year. Two freshman Assembly members, David Hadley (R-Los Angeles) and Young Kim (R-Orange), lost to the Democrats they defeated in 2014, and in both districts collapsing Republican registration wiped out their 2014 victory margins. In the sole GOP Senate district that was lost, the 29th SD, declining Republican registration seems to have cost Republican Ling Ling Chang what should have been a fairly easy GOP win.
The early mail ballots, where party breakdowns are available, suggested that Democrats would do better than they did, as the GOP early ballot returns were way behind their numbers in 2012. And a number of analysts read these results wrongly. For instance a survey of early voting that appeared in Capital Weekly showed Rep Darrell Issa (R-San Diego) behind his Democratic challenger by 16 points; in fact Issa never trailed in his race and won a very narrow victory that was not called until this week.
Another factor helping Republicans is that Trump actually did well in some parts of California. He carried 26 counties, but these were mostly the small rural counties. In the major urban areas he ran miles behind Clinton, losing urban California by a greater margin than did Mitt Romney in 2012 or John McCain in 2008. He received only nine percent in San Francisco County, and lost the surrounding Bay Area counties by more than 70 percent. Trump managed to lose Orange County for the first time since Alf Landon lost it to Franklin Roosevelt in 1936.
In part, these results show that California is polarized like the rest of the nation, but demographics are also a factor. Trump’s base was working class voters, but in California these voters are mostly Latinos, and he only won 22 percent of the Latino vote, according to the Los Angeles Times exit poll. California’s white and Asian electorate is generally wealthier than in the country as a whole, and Trump did very poorly with this demographic. According to the exit poll, he won only 40 percent of white voters.
This week, Trump has squawked that he actually won the popular vote because millions of illegal aliens voted for Clinton here in California. This is complete nonsense, as our elections are run by 58 county clerks answerable to their local boards of supervisors, and there is no evidence at all of illegals being registered or voting.
Trump was a unique disaster in California, and the miracle is that he did not pull down other Republicans with him.