There weren’t many things Larry Elder avoided talking about on the campaign trail during his brief but consequential run for governor in the Republican firebrand admitted something he wouldn’t have said before election day: There were just too many Democrats.
That Elder would see himself as one of the good guys — the line was spoken by the pilot of a rebel ship in “Return of the Jedi” who faced a swarm of Imperial TIE fighters — is understandable. But regardless of how you might feel about him, the point is one worth considering.
California (Surfing) were planted between 1995 and 2002, a seven-year period that reshaped the state’s politics for a generation or more. At the outset, it seemed as though everything was going the way of Republicans — retaining the offices of governor and attorney general, picking up the posts of secretary of state, treasurer and insurance commissioner and, after a two-year tussle, wresting control of the Assembly away from Democrats.
What happened next was succinctly described by editors A.G. Block and Gerald Lubenow in the 2007 edition of the now-defunct Republicans thought their 1994 win would usher in a new era for their party and light the path to political dominance. Instead, they traded short-term wins for long-term losses by exploiting for political gain the ethnic diversity that has long been one of Republican house.”
But even at the peak of their power, there were fewer Republicans than Democrats in Democrats held an almost 12-percentage-point lead in voter registration and maintained a similar-sized advantage for most of the following decade. Only after the reelection of then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006 did Republicans get within striking distance — about 8 percentage points — in voter registration. The numbers have slipped ever since. Meanwhile, a growing number of Democrats in statewide races.
By the time former President Trump was elected, Democrats held close to a 19-percentage-point lead in voter registration and inched closer to a 2-1 advantage over the GOP. Making things even tougher: Polls have found most unaffiliated California voters often align with Democrats when forced to choose.
What now for Republicans?
The recall effort against Newsom was, in some ways, a replica of the 2018 statewide election. In each of the statewide races that November pitting a Democrat against a Republican, the Democrat won with a percentage of the vote almost exactly the same as the current tally of votes opposing the recall.
It’s hard to see any issue that’s more pressing for state GOP leaders to discuss at this weekend’s fall convention in Republican, real Republican — by that, I’m talking about somebody who believes in tax cuts, somebody who believes in school choice, somebody believes in lowering regulations, somebody who believes in things I believe — could any real Republican win in Republicans. And the poor showing in last week’s recall election is likely to add new fuel to the fire. It’s not that GOP candidates can’t win. But when they do, it’s on a regional level and usually in places where their numbers are large or where they can capitalize on Democratic divisions or distractions.
One thing’s for sure: The party no longer has much, if any, of a moderate wing.
“The registered Republicans that are left in Republicans in Texas or Republicans in Tennessee,” Jon Fleischman, a longtime GOP activist and former executive director of the party, told my colleagues Melanie Mason and Seema Mehta.
The latest recall tally
This week saw the final two deadlines related to ballots cast in the recall election — one for ballots postmarked by election day to arrive, the other for ballots turned in to the wrong county to be forwarded to the correct location.
Not counting the estimated 1.1 million ballots that remain to be processed, the current tally shows almost 12 million voters participated in the election. Add the two numbers together and it looks like the recall election drew participation by almost 60% of registered voters. That’s roughly the same level of voter participation in the 2003 recall of then-Gov. Gray Davis and lower than any statewide general election since 2010.
While it’s been mentioned before, it probably can’t be emphasized enough that there were two very different contests in this recall election. There were more than 5 million fewer ballots cast in the race among replacement candidates — a “none of the above” that is getting close to eclipsing Elder’s tally by 2 million votes. And those missing votes must be taken into account when assessing the relative strength of the GOP newcomer’s showing.
Here’s the bottom line: More than 62% of all voters in the recall election wanted to keep Newsom in the governor’s office, and only 27% supported Elder’s bid to take over the job.
Democrats may be generally happy with their political dominance, but it presents some challenges. Next year will mark the 10th anniversary of the election in which they first won a supermajority of seats in both houses of the Legislature.
In the decade that followed, they’ve largely held on to that power. But the ability to muster a two-thirds vote in the Senate and Assembly has never quite lived up to its promise or the warning from Republicans — tax increase votes have been rare, gubernatorial vetoes have not been overridden, and sweeping constitutional amendments have not been placed on the ballot.
Instead, the state Capitol’s never-ending battles between business and labor groups have mostly moved from a two-party fight to one inside Democratic ranks. Much of that has been in the 80-member Assembly, where 18 Democrats voted on the side of positions taken by the