CA GOP aims for demographic rebound

CA GOPConvinced that expanding voter appeal is a make-or-break proposition, leading California Republicans have begun to pivot toward a broad-based demographic strategy meant to rebuild from the ground up. In recent weeks, both the state party and the GOP’s minority caucus in Sacramento have put demographics at the center of their political plans heading into 2016.

Though party officials and elected officials acknowledge they face a long road to the level of support maintained decades ago, the change in emphasis has begun to draw notice from analysts at both ends of the political spectrum.

Assembly shakeup

Aware that their influence on legislation has been effectively limited by Democratic majorities and Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration, Sacramento Republicans have recently been determined to place voter outreach above legislative wrangling. The strategic shift has led to a decrease in consulting and clerical staff among Assembly Republicans, the Los Angeles Times reported, and to an increase in communications staff, specifically targeting better social media outreach.

“‘We have to accept the playing field for us has changed and put our resources into tactics that move the ball for Republicans,’ said Assembly GOP leader Kristin Olsen of Modesto. ‘Unless we are getting outside of this building and telling Californians what we are doing, we’re really not going to make a whole lot of progress in resonating with voters,’ she said.”

Kristin_Olsen_PictureThis month, evidence of the shift emerged in the form of a new package of legislation, complete with a new hashtag to match. Unveiling the #GrowTogetherCA package, Olsen cast the legislation in thematic terms, pitched more at voter perceptions than fellow colleagues across the aisle. “It’s time to end the outdated thinking in Sacramento that sees new industries as a threat,” she said. “Our #GrowTogetherCA package will change this attitude to welcome the modern economy and to help close income gaps that are hurting the vast majority of Californians. We also want to focus on infrastructure needs that have gone neglected for too long, driving away jobs and stifling our state’s economic growth potential.”

Republicans have sensed a political opportunity amid Democrats’ struggles to settle on a successful infrastructure policy. In recent months, Democrats have found themselves divided across a range of infrastructure issues, including Gov. Brown’s ambitious, multibillion-dollar scheme to construct massive underground tunnels routing water to the state’s thirsty southerly half.

An opportunity for an edge

The GOP’s newfound emphasis reflected an awareness that, although Sacramento Democrats have remained united enough to rebuff GOP-led legislation, California voters have soured on Brown’s approach to infrastructure. A Field Poll released this February showed that majorities supported Brown’s performance as a whole, but not his penchant for large-scale, big-ticket projects such as high-speed rail and the tunnel plan:

When asked to consider three negative statements that have been made about the governor, a 57 percent majority agrees with one of them – “favors too many big government projects that the state cannot afford right now.”

Although Republican strategists have not drawn a straight line between infrastructure issues and demographic targets, “Republicans hope that focusing on such matters — rather than on divisive social issues — may help broaden the party’s appeal,” as the Times noted.

Party politics

At the same time, under the leadership of chairman Jim Brulte, the state GOP has undertaken its own focus on demographic improvement. In a recent interview with liberal Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, Brulte spoke bluntly about the political logic. “California is the leading edge of the country’s demographic changes,” he told Dionne. “Frankly, Republicans in California did not react quickly enough to them, and we have paid a horrible price.”

As Dionne observed, “Brulte has concentrated his own energies on rebuilding the party from the bottom up. He has enjoyed some real successes at the local and county levels, and the GOP eliminated the Democrats’ veto-proof majorities in the state legislature in the 2014 mid-terms.” Re-elected last month to another two year term, Brulte recently attributed those successes to the new demographic focus. “Brulte credited the victories to fielding candidates that better reflected their communities,” according to the Sacramento Bee.

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