OK, I Was Wrong About the Elections

By Garry South

December 23, 2010

Capitol Weekly

OK, I admit it, folks, I was wrong about the elections in November. Very wrong.

For years, I have been dinging and pinging the “other party” – the Republicans – in print, including in this publication, for their inability to win statewide elections in California.  In 2004, I penned a piece in the Sacramento Bee titled “State GOP Just Can’t Shake Its Good Ol’ Boy Ways,” mocking the party and its leadership for not supporting a prominent Latina with a compelling personal story as an immigrant, Rosario Marin, for U.S. Senate.

Since they likely were going to lose the election to Sen. Barbara Boxer anyway, I reasoned, they might as well put up a fresh face who might help change the face of their party – an Hispanic woman, and the first-ever foreign-born person to serve as treasurer of the United States.  Instead, the party brass, including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former Gov. Pete Wilson, unfathomably backed former secretary of state Bill Jones, a bland conservative who had finished third in the three-way GOP primary for governor just two years before.  Predictably, he won the primary but got slaughtered by Boxer in a 20-point blowout.

I’ve written several like opinion pieces making fun of the Republicans for putting up an almost nonstop phalanx of middle-aged white males for statewide office, despite California being the most diverse state in the Union – and with a majority of women voters.  Back in 2003, another piece I wrote for the Bee was titled, “What’s Wrong With GOP? Look in Mirror,” pointing out that of the 67 Republican officeholders then in state and federal office, 63 were Caucasians, with zero African Americans, zero Asian Americans and only four Latinos.  But in 2006, the last Republican statewide ticket still consisted of seven middle-aged white males, and another white male running for U.S. Senate.

Last year, I authored a column for Politico titled “The California GOP’s Problema Grande,” in which I took them to task again for not fielding Latino candidates in a state with more Latinos than any other in America, and for inadequate and/or ham-handed outreach to the fastest-growing ethnic group in the state.

But now for something completely different.  This election year, the Grand Old Party took almost of my free, unsolicited advice – fielding their most diverse ticket ever, consisting of the first Republican female nominees for both governor and U.S. Senate, a Latino for lieutenant governor (who also, by dint of appointment by Schwarzenegger, is the incumbent in that office), an African American for secretary of state, and another woman for treasurer.

But in the end, it didn’t matter, every one got mowed down, and the Democrats carried all statewide constitutional offices for the second time in the last three election cycles (they also did it in 2002, for the first time since 1882), and won their eighth straight U.S. Senate contest.

The governor’s race particularly must have been a sickening revelation for the Republicans.  They not only fielded their first-ever woman candidate – after the Democrats had done so in both 1990 and 1994 – but one who was a social moderate on certain issues, such as a woman’s right to choose, gay rights and immigration. In profile, Meg Whitman didn’t differ much from the previous two Republican governors, Schwarzenegger and Wilson, who also were social moderates (with some exceptions) and fiscal conservatives.

And then there’s the little matter of money: billionaire Whitman spent more than $160 million, more by far than had ever been spent by any candidate for statewide office anywhere in American history.  Jerry Brown, meanwhile, after getting a very late start, raised barely more than Gray Davis in his come-from-behind gubernatorial campaign 12 years earlier – and only about half what Davis gathered in his 2002 reelection.  Brown also ran a much-criticized – including by me – low-key, understaffed campaign that was more commensurate with a state Senate contest than with running for governor of the largest state.  But he still slaughtered Whitman by 13 points in the end.

Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, despite being the first Republican Latino to hold statewide office since the 1870s, and in spite of his classic up-by-the-bootstraps immigrant story, got whipped by a Democrat, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who had aborted his underfunded gubernatorial primary run against Brown in late ’09.  Newsom, whose statewide favorability ratings were underwater in every major public poll, actually raised less than Davis did running for the same office 16 years before.  But it didn’t matter.

Even in this virulently anti-Washington year, Carly Fiorina, the GOP Senate nominee, got her ears boxed by three-term incumbent Boxer, who ran a brilliant, textbook campaign in a race most observers believed was close and won by a landslide 10-point margin.  And this despite Fiorina raising and spending more against the junior senator than had ever been spent against a sitting California senator other than Michael Huffington’s self-funded race against Dianne Feinstein in 1994.

If all else failed, the Republicans’ great white hope was Steve Cooley, L.A. County district attorney, who had been overwhelmingly elected three times to that office in the state’s largest county.  He thus had a much bigger political base – or so it was thought – than his Democratic opponent, San Francisco D.A. Kamala Harris, a minority woman who openly opposes the death penalty. But although this race was the closest of all, in the end Harris and her team ran an almost flawless campaign to overcome her potential liabilities and capitalize on Cooley’s, and Cooley also went down.

The black Republican candidate for secretary of state, 34-year-old former NFL player Damon Dunn, and state Sen. Mimi Walters, then the GOP’s only female senator, running for treasurer?   Both drowned in the Democratic tide without even leaving so much as a footprint in the sand.

So here’s the Blue Christmas for Republicans.  California has become an almost generic- Democratic state, as evidenced convincingly by November’s election results.  In fact, since 1994 the Republicans have won only one downballot office that wasn’t held by an incumbent – Steve Poizner for insurance commissioner in 2006 (and he had to spend $13 million of his own dollars to buy his way out of the curdled Republican brand in California).  The number of registered Republicans is hovering around 30 percent of the electorate, an all-time low, and may well fall below 30 by the next general election if recent trends are any indication.

Nationally, the Republicans won back the U.S. House by turning over 63 seats, their largest House pick-up since 1938, won six seats in the Senate and a majority of governorships – not to mention winning more state legislative seats than at any time since 1928 and flipping control of 22 state legislative chambers. But the GOP juggernaut was stopped cold at the Sierra Nevada.  Here in the Golden State, they couldn’t grab a single one of the Democrats’ 34 congressional seats, despite heavy national targeting of a couple, actually lost a Republican seat in the Assembly – as well as all statewide offices and the U.S. Senate contest.

So, I admit it, I’ve been wrong all along, my Republican friends.  John Lennon wrote the lyrics “there’s nothing you can do that can’t be done.”  But for California Republicans, it appears that has been shortened to just “there’s nothing you can do.”  Therefore, I have no more free advice to offer, and I feel just terrible that for once you took a lot of my criticisms to heart and still got creamed across the board.

From now on, you’re on your own.