Ugly numbers for state GOP

Capitol Journal

SACRAMENTO — “Too white, too right and too uptight,” says a veteran political consultant. “That’s why the Republican Party can’t come back in California.”

Strategist David Townsend is a Democrat, so that’s the sort of comment you would expect from the likes of him.

But there were top Republicans at the party’s state convention in Sacramento over the weekend making similar observations, in softer tones and absent the negativity. They realize that to survive, the California GOP must broaden its ethnic and ideological bases and be less rigid on social issues.


Karl Rove, former President George W. Bush’s chief strategist, told a luncheon of about 500 delegates Saturday that the GOP needs to reflect the diversity of America. “If we do, we’ll succeed.”

U.S. House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, California’s highest-ranking Republican, told the Sacramento Press Club on Friday that the party “should embrace a little bit of libertarianism.”

It’s hard to argue with the numbers.

The Republican Party in this state is 82% white, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. That compares with 56% white for both Democrats and independents. This matters because white views on key issues sometimes are rejected by the rest of the electorate in this ethnically diverse state.

For example, the Field Poll found last week that only 41% of whites favor granting driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. But enough Latinos, blacks and Asian Americans favor it so that, overall, 52% of California voters support the idea.

Among Republicans, according to the policy institute, 72% call themselves conservative. But only 17% of Democrats and 32% of independents do.

This pushes the GOP far to the right of the rest of California in its opposition to gun control, same-sex marriage, legalizing marijuana and taking action against global warming, the Field Poll reports.

“We’ve got to figure out our highest priorities — such as the economy and jobs, public safety, efficient government, quality education — and focus on those,” state Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff of Diamond Bar told me. “Talking about other things turns people off.

“If people have other issues they want to talk about, they can go off and do it. But that can’t be the party.”

Huff has a team of political staffers trying to reach out to Latino, Asian and black communities — a fine idea that works only if it’s accompanied by new GOP messages.

“I don’t think the Republican Party has a very good message” for Latinos, said freshman GOP Assemblyman Rocky Chavez of Oceanside.

When Latinos hear Republican politicians demand that the government “‘secure the border,’” Chavez continued, “right there, you just cut off the conversation. Why invite me to dinner but let only half my family in?”

End-result numbers for the California Republican Party can be seen in the rosters of elected officials: Democrats hold every statewide office, control the Legislature and dominate the congressional delegation. The GOP lost seven legislative and four congressional seats in November.

Trend lines for the California GOP are in free-fall. For example:

• Republican numbers have fallen to 29% of registered voters. Independents have grown to 21%. Democrats are at 44%. At the current rate, independents will surpass Republicans before the end of the decade. And independents tend to vote and think a lot more like Democrats than Republicans.

Meanwhile, the gap between Democrats and Republicans who actually vote nearly doubled from 2000 to 2012. The advantage for Democrats over Republicans widened from 8 percentage points to 14 points, according to the California Business Roundtable, which has been closely monitoring the ailing GOP.

• Women — especially Democratic women — turn out significantly more than men. A million more women than men voted in California last November, according to the roundtable. “Men seem to be more disaffected and women more engaged,” says Tony Russo, the group’s political analyst.

Women are the Democratic Party’s core strength, representing 57% of its registered voters. They voted overwhelmingly for Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax increase, Proposition 30.

• Latinos are shunning the GOP. And within months they’re projected to surpass whites as California’s largest ethnic group. Among Latinos, 57% are registered Democrats, 25% are independents and the GOP is No. 3 at 18%, according to the roundtable.

Moreover, Latino Democrats have been turning out at a higher rate than Latino Republicans or independents.

• The GOP isn’t faring much better with voters under 30. The roundtable reports that 41% are registered Democrat, 37% independent and just 22% Republican. They amounted to 15% of the November vote — double that of 2008 — and were big supporters of Prop. 30 and President Obama.

Paul Mitchell, vice president of Political Data, which churns out numbers and sells them to candidates, describes the GOP as “healthy” among voters over 40. But under-40 voters “are very unlikely to be Republican,” he adds.

The white GOP core is aging, Mitchell notes, significantly reducing the party’s share of the California electorate. “Republican voters are going out the back door,” he says. “And coming in the front door are Latinos and youth — voters who are much more Democrat.”

The business community, always focused on the bottom line, increasingly sees moderate Democrats as the best investment for campaign dollars. The GOP just hasn’t been producing.

“We’re going to be redoubling our effort to help elect Democrats who understand business,” says Rob Lapsley, president of the Business Roundtable.

But politics is cyclical, right? Up one election, down the next.

Maybe not anymore in California. Not unless the GOP can become less white, less right, less uptight and younger.