With the March 12 candidate filing deadline for California’s June primary election fast approaching, it’s time to offer the state’s Republican Party some unsolicited, but still very sound advice:
Find candidates for Congress who are willing to abandon a few of the GOP’s longtime staples in order to become appealing and relevant to the large mass of California voters.
This state’s congressional Republicans have lived in fear ever since the nonpartisan Citizens Redistricting Commission last August adopted maps that will govern the upcoming primary. The failure of a long shot GOP lawsuit seeking to overturn the map only accented their trepidation. The suit itself was replete with irony because the GOP strongly backed the 2008 ballot initiative setting up the commission, expecting its work product would leave the party better off than any map that might be drawn by the Democratic-dominated state Legislature.
But once party officials saw the new lines, they realized there was a good chance they could lose as many as five of the 19 seats in Congress they now hold. Should that happen and President Obama run stronger in other parts of America than most now expect, this could see Democrats retake control of the House of Representatives.
Most of the GOP fear centers on districts in Southern California, although there’s also a possibility that Republican Rep. Dan Lungren, the former Long Beach congressman and ex-state attorney general who now represents a Sierra Nevada foothills area, could also be threatened.
For sure, the GOP will lose one seat because the homes of Reps. Ed Royce of Fullerton in Orange County and Gary Miller of Diamond Bar in Los Angeles County were tossed into the same district. Neither chose to move, so like veteran Democrats Howard Berman and Brad Sherman in the San Fernando Valley section of Los Angeles, one of them will go. Because of the new “top two” primary system, the results in both cases may be unclear until November, but for sure one longtime Republican congressman and one powerful Democrat will depart.
The new lines also threatened Republican veterans like David Dreier, chairman of the House Rules Committee, Jerry Lewis of Redlands and Elton Gallegly of Ventura County, all of whose new districts seem ripe for possible Democratic pickups. In response, Gallegly has already announced his retirement.
How can the GOP prevent further losses? Allen Hoffenblum, a former Republican consultant who now co-publishes the California Target Book tracking legislative and congressional races, offers good advice: “They ought to be upset about their horrible registration numbers (and not the district lines),” he told a reporter. “Until they can solve that problem, they shouldn’t be running around demanding more seats.”
In fact, the GOP share of registered California voters is lower than ever in modern history, barely above 30 percent. Among voters declaring a preference for either of the two major parties, Republicans trail by 60-40 percent. It’s almost impossible to draw district lines favoring the GOP when the party’s numbers are so low.
So the real question for Republicans is not whether they’ll lose a few seats – they probably will. Even if the party’s lawsuit had succeeded, registration figures assure that any improvement for the GOP would have been slight.
So the real Republican need is to appeal to more voters. That means making a play for the mass of Latino voters (fastest growing voter group both in California and nationally) by reversing field and beginning to favor changes in federal immigration law designed to be more favorable to illegal immigrants. This sort of stance would never have flown in the old primary system, where only Republicans could vote for Republican candidates. But the new, open system where all candidates run against each other regardless of party, with the top two advancing to a November runoff, might actually favor GOP candidates who take more moderate stances on immigration.
The same with environmental issues, where Republicans in Congress steadfastly oppose almost every move toward cleaner air and water, or toward greater automotive fuel economy.
Gun control is another area where California Republicans are out of synch with most California voters. So is their firm “no new taxes under any circumstance” position.
These stances are all longtime GOP cant, but they can’t be the positions of anyone who hopes to draw a large vote from moderate Democrats and independent voters in California.
The bottom line: The GOP will lose California congressional seats this fall and will not reverse those losses until it makes changes. That may mean departing from some cherished principles, but no party can survive long-term unless it stays at least somewhat in tune with the sentiments of large voting blocs.