CA GOP pivots to save down ballot races

by James Poulos | November 3, 2016 8:12 am


darrell-issaThe shifts and splits that have long beleaguered the California Republican Party have culminated in historic unpopularity this election year, presenting officials with an open question as to how the party can best retool in the wake of Donald Trump’s run for the White House.

Despite a dogged performance two years ago that held the line against further losses, state Republicans did not anticipate the rise of a candidate that would galvanize their smaller and increasingly populist base. “Of the state’s likely voters, 72 percent have an unfavorable opinion of the GOP,” John Myers noted[1] at the Los Angeles Times, citing a new poll from the Public Policy Institute of California. “That’s eight points higher than two years ago, 14 points worse than four years ago and a massive 21 points above the party’s unfavorable rating six years ago. And then there’s this: 50 percent of registered Republicans have an unfavorable opinion of their party.”

Souring mood

Although Trump has openly declared political war on Republicans he sees as unsupportive, Californian dissatisfaction with the GOP has not helped his candidacy. In a joint poll by Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and the Bill Lane Center for the American West, respondents suggested the Trump who once encouraged buzz around a bid for California votes has been eclipsed by public opinion. “You have to go all the way back to Alf Landon in 1936 to find a Republican presidential nominee doing as badly as Donald Trump is in California. Even Landon got 31.7 percent of the vote, while Trump is polling at 30 percent, according to the poll of 1,250 likely voters,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported[2].

The paltry percentage implied a so-called down-ballot effect “on three vulnerable House GOP incumbents: Darrell Issa in northern San Diego County, Steve Knight in northeastern Los Angeles County and Jeff Denham in the Central Valley’s Stanislaus County,” the paper added. 

October twist

But down-ballot Democrats have not been immune to the twists and turns of fortune in the election’s closing days. Analysts have tended to agree that although Hillary Clinton probably won’t be hurt by late developments in the FBI’s investigation of emails surrounding her practices and associates, the ongoing ordeal might pose bad news for vulnerable party-mates in competitive legislative races. “Democrats say they haven’t seen slippage yet and they hope that the email story won’t move the needle in a half-dozen or so Senate races that are either tied or within the polling margin of error,” according[3] to NBC Los Angeles, but Republican moneymen, the network noted, have sought to capitalize on the possibility. 

Meanwhile, in a move designed to aid candidates like Issa, California veterans of Ted Cruz’s campaign have trained their organizational guns on a last-minute push. “Ron Nehring, the former state GOP chairman who was a top Cruz booster, said the focus will be on turning out Republican voters and recruiting volunteers to work on a list of hotly contested congressional and legislative races selected by the California Republican Party,” according[4] to the Times.

An uneven wave

Nevertheless, in some parts of California, Republicans have not faced a down-ballot problem for the reason that no Republicans exist down ballot. “When 818,000 voters in Los Angeles County fill out their ballots this election, they will find themselves in strange political territory: The only Republican names they’ll see will be presidential nominee Donald Trump and his running mate Mike Pence,” as the Times reported[5]. “In this GOP ‘dead zone’ — spanning parts of five congressional districts, five state Assembly districts and one state Senate district — not a single Republican candidate made it on to the November ballot.”

Despite their dominance, California Democrats may still not succeed in seizing a supermajority in the state Legislature on Election Day. “While Democrats would have to run the table in several competitive districts to gain a supermajority in the state Senate, an unlikely outcome even in an advantageous election year, their prospects in the state Assembly run higher,” Politico observed[6]. “In the lower house, Democrats need to pick up only two seats, and early turnout in targeted districts is moving in their favor.”

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