GOP dead zones: You won’t find any Republicans to vote for in big areas of L.A. County
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.
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.
Instead, all but three of the candidates in those races will be Democrats. In two races voters can choose Libertarian Party candidates who mounted successful write-in campaigns during the primary. And in an East Los Angeles congressional race, an Air Force medic is mounting a bare-bones campaign as an independent against Lucille Roybal-Allard.
This scenario is the result of California’s relatively new, voter-approved primary system in which the two candidates who finish with the most votes in the June election go on to the general election — even if they are from the same party.
For the first time in a statewide contest, voters have two Democrats only to choose between in the open U.S. Senate contest between California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris and Rep. Loretta Sanchez.
But for those 818,000 voters in parts of Los Angeles County, such as the San Fernando Valley and Central Los Angeles, the dearth of GOP options stretches much further down the ballot, according to an analysis of voter registration conducted for The Times by Political Data Inc.
For the most part the local Republican parties have given up on this territory, focusing instead on defending seats in the Antelope Valley and the Palos Verdes Peninsula along the Pacific Coast, where Republicans Tom Lackey and David Hadley picked up two Assembly seats from Democrats in 2014.
Those incumbents are in danger of losing the seats because Democratic voters turn out in higher numbers during presidential years — a factor Democratic campaigns are attempting to exploit by painting every down-ballot Republican as a miniature version of Trump.
“We are concentrating on races that we can win,” said Mark Vafiades, chairman of the Los Angeles County Republican Party. “We don’t want to spread ourselves too thin. We have to hold on to what we have.”
That means the party pretty much ignores parts of the San Fernando Valley such as Sylmar, Pacoima and Van Nuys.
Republican voter registration is stuck between 12% and 16% in three of the legislative districts that cover that area, whereas roughly 25% of voters are registered as having no party preference. Democrats claim more than 52% of voters in each of these districts.
Chances for Republicans are so bad that between the three races, only one Republican even competed in the primary. The other 13 candidates were Democrats.
That means a voter in Sylmar will have to decide whether to send Rep. Tony Cardenas back to Washington or replace him with former L.A. City Councilman Richard Alarcon, who is set to be retried on perjury and voter fraud charges later this year. Both are Democrats.
And when it comes to picking a representative in the state Assembly, that same voter will choose between incumbent Patty Lopez or former Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra. Both are Democrats.
In nearby Van Nuys, in addition to the Cardenas and Alarcon race, voters have two more Democratic choices for the state Assembly: incumbent Adrin Nazarian and attorney Angela Rupert.
Republican Roxanne Hoge, an actress and mother of four who runs a maternity clothing business, said she started her write-in campaign for that Assembly race about a month before the June primary when she realized zero Republicans were on the ballot.
“I found it kind of shocking,” she said. “It is unconscionable that there is a monopoly on either side. Then we all suffer.”
She finished with 88 votes, behind Rupert’s 131 votes. Nazarian took 99.6% of the vote.
Hoge is upbeat about her loss, aware that her late candidacy was not a top priority for the party. But the ballot-box futility is still disheartening for some Republicans in the dead zone.
“I am definitely past the point of worrying,” said Zachary Taylor, a GOP activist who lost a 2014 race to Nazarian by 40 percentage points. “What are the different phases of acceptance? I’m at sadness now. Initially it was denial.”
Outside of the San Fernando Valley, Republicans have also abandoned a large chunk of central Los Angeles that stretches across gentrifying neighborhoods including Eagle Rock, Highland Park and Boyle Heights; small cities such as Vernon and Huntington Park; and dense neighborhoods such as downtown, Exposition Park and Koreatown.
No Republicans are on the ballot in any of the down-ballot races there either.
There will be Republicans in some local races, such as for county supervisor, but voters won’t know it from looking at their ballot. Those races are nonpartisan and don’t list party affiliation.
Usually some perennial GOP candidates offer themselves up as sacrificial lambs, such as longtime Radio Shack employee Stephen Smith, who lost a 2010 race against Democratic Rep. Xavier Becerra The results were 86% to 14%.
Smith’s 2014 race against Jimmy Gomez for a state Assembly seat went slightly better: He lost with 16% of the vote to Gomez’s 84%.
“The ones that used to run kind of got tired of running and losing,” said William Morrison, a Republican who lost a primary election in 2014 for a state Senate seat in the area and plans to run for mayor of Los Angeles in 2017.
The 59th Assembly District, which covers the neighborhoods around USC, is the heart of the dead zone.
The district has the lowest Republican voter registration of any Assembly, state Senate or congressional district in the state, according to the latest voter registration data from the California secretary of state.
Just 5.24% of the 183,675 voters there are registered with the Republican Party. Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer is running for reelection unopposed, just as he did in 2014.
Some of his constituents won’t see a Republican when they choose a state senator either: Democrat Ricardo Lara is up for reelection against Libertarian Honor “Mimi” Robson.
Excluding the U.S. Senate race, 27 of 153 down-ballot contests across California will have candidates from the same political party. During state elections in 2012 and 2014, there were 28 and 25 same-party contests, respectively, according to data compiled by the nonpartisan election guide California Target Book.
But during those years, at least seven of the intraparty contests were between Republicans. This year there are only four Republican-on-Republican battles — all Assembly races.
“This is new territory for us,” said Raphael J. Sonenshein, executive director of the Edmund G. “Pat” Brown Institute of Public Affairs at Cal State L.A.
The idea behind Proposition 14, the voter-approved measure that created the top-two primary, was to elevate moderate candidates in districts where a single party dominated, Sonenshein said.
But research on the moderating effects of the top-two system has been mixed. And the Harris-Sanchez contest has shone a bright light on the issue, with critics saying California is approaching one-party rule.
“After this election there is going to be a lot of discussion and evaluation of the system,” Sonenshein said.
Roman Gabriel Gonzalez, the Air Force medic who is running without a party affiliation against Roybal-Allard, suggests his candidacy is a good example of where those ideals meet reality.
The Cal State Long Beach graduate is going door-to-door preaching his outsider status. So far, he says, he has piqued the interest of some former supporters of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders as well as Republicans.
“They like that I am a veteran,” he said. “They obviously like I am running against a Democrat.”
But without a party behind him, Gonzalez said he has raised less than $5,000 for his campaign.
Still, Gonzalez said, “We have to give the people a choice.”
Times staff writer Ben Poston contributed to this report.
7:26 a.m: This article was updated to include information about nonpartisan county supervisor races.
This article was originally published at 12:05 a.m.
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