A Democratic stronghold got stronger in 2018.
Illustration: Konstantin Sergeyev/Intelligencer
While there’s something of a debate going on (spurred by some mad spinning from Republicans) about the extent to which Democrats can claim a “wave” election victory this year, there’s not much doubt about it in the nation’s largest state. California, already a blue bastion in which Democrats held the legislature, every statewide elected position, both U.S. Senate seats, and a solid majority of U.S. House seats, managed to become even more Democratic on November 6.
Democrats regained the state legislative supermajorities they won in 2016 (they had lost that margin in the state senate thanks to a recall, and temporarily lost it in the state assembly due to resignations over sexual-misconduct charges), giving new Democratic governor Gavin Newsom veto-proof support for this agenda. Republicans again failed to win any statewide offices; the closest they came was former Republican insurance commissioner Steve Poizner’s just-short effort to reclaim his old job as an independent. And most importantly, they have lost four U.S. House seats out of the 14 they currently control, with two more losses more likely than not as late returns (mostly mail ballots postmarked on or near Election Day) continue to trend Democratic, as the Los Angeles Times notes:
California Republicans lost a fourth seat in the House on Tuesday as Democrat Josh Harder gained enough votes to oust GOP Rep. Jeff Denham in the San Joaquin Valley….
In Orange County’s latest ballot count Tuesday, Republican Rep. Mimi Walters fell 261 votes behind her Democratic challenger, Katie Porter. Walters finished election night more than 6,200 votes ahead, but her lead steadily dwindled until it vanished on Tuesday.
Young Kim, the Republican running to succeed GOP Rep. Ed Royce of Fullerton, saw her lead over Democrat Gil Cisneros shrink to 711 votes in the updated Orange and Los Angeles county tallies.
A day later, Porter’s lead is up to 3797 votes, and Kim’s is down to just 122.
By my rough calculation, losing six seats would leave Republicans with the fewest California House members since 1944, when the state only had 23 districts. The GOP did better in House races even in such notable Democratic landslide years as 1964, 1974, 2006, and 2008.
These very blue results for Republicans extended beyond their dismal performance in electoral contests. The GOP invested heavily in a ballot initiative to repeal a big 2017 fuel-tax increase that was being used to deal with a massive backlog of road and bridge repairs; Republicans very much hoped it would drive voters to the polls in their Southern California and Central Valley strongholds, saving endangered officeholders. It didn’t seem to work, and the initiative itself was trounced.
The depths to which California Republicans have descended have already spurred calls for the party to distance itself from Donald Trump, who is pretty clearly a millstone around the elephant’s neck in this particular part of the country. A widely quoted op-ed by Republican former legislator Kristin Olsen didn’t mince words:
The California Republican Party isn’t salvageable at this time. The Grand Old Party is dead – partly because it has failed to separate itself from today’s toxic, national brand of Republican politics….
While the rest of the nation saw a mix of Republican and Democrat victories, we in California experienced a blue tsunami. It looks as if Democrats will win nearly every target seat, including some in districts that have been historically considered “safe” for Republicans.
It is time for a New Way. And if the Republican Party can’t evolve, it may be time for a third party, one that will appeal to disenfranchised voters in the Republican and Democratic parties who long for better representation and a better California for all.
If this sounds alarmist, it’s not that different from the position taken earlier this year by the last Republican governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, in helping to launch a moderate GOP organization called (probably not coincidentally) “New Way:”
Mr. Schwarzenegger said the Republican Party had to be “environmentally progressive, socially liberal and fiscally conservative” in order to be competitive.
“The politics of division and anger and resentment can drive a strong base to the polls, yes,” he said. “But it is tearing our country apart at the seams. And nothing is getting done.”
Having alienated the state’s large and growing minority populations via years of anti-immigrant demagoguery and law-and-order appeals, and now beginning to lose its ancient suburban base via fidelity to Trump, California Republicans have richly earned their bad situation. It’s hard to imagine them going back and starting over, but that may be what the situation demands.