The assumption of almost anyone interested in politics has all along been that Republican Mitt Romney stands virtually no chance of carrying California in his bid to unseat President Obama.
The candidate himself made that assessment all but official the other day at the end of a fund-raising swing through the state’s big cities, when he named a “leadership” team to head his campaign in this, the nation’s largest state, with the biggest pot of electoral votes.
The Romney choices were almost automatic, representing nothing at all new or original politically, and some of them amount to a virtual kiss of death when it comes to winning elections in California. They assure that Californians who don’t donate thousands of campaign dollars will see almost nothing of the national candidates this fall, not even via television commercials.
Start with the fact that no Republican can win a statewide vote in California with anything less than about 40 percent of the steadily-larger Latino vote. Then note that Romney’s new honorary statewide co-chairman is former Gov. Pete Wilson, who almost singlehandedly turned California from a highly competitive state into one that’s considered solidly Democratic blue on every electoral map.
Wilson did this with his unstinting support of the anti-illegal immigrant 1994 Proposition 187, which passed handily and but for a federal court order would now ban children of the undocumented from public schools, while denying all other government benefits to them and their parents, including hospital emergency care.
Wilson, trailing Democrat Kathleen Brown by 20 points in early polls on his reelection that year, promised to require all state and local government employees to report suspected illegal immigrants to the state attorney general’s office if Proposition 187 passed. Then-Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren, now a suburban Sacramento congressman but also running for re-election in ‘94, quickly agreed to set up emergency regulations to enforce the law immediately after the election, even before its effective date.
This all achieved two political results: It got both Republicans reelected, and it set off a massive wave of citizenship applications, with more than 2.5 million previously legal residents who were not yet citizens becoming naturalized in the next two years. Many of them said they believed further new anti-immigrant laws might be imminent, and the only way to assure their ability to remain in America was to become citizens.
Almost all of them immediately registered Democratic, ending any hopes the GOP might have harbored for achieving voter registration parity for decades to come.
Wilson further alienated Hispanics with a drumbeat of TV commercials featuring video of illegals running across the Mexican border at San Ysidro, with an announcer solemnly intoning “they keep coming.”
Wilson soon was Latinos’ biggest political bugaboo everywhere in the Southwest; polls even showed he was widely detested in Mexico.
So, in a state where Latino votes have been decisive for many years, that’s who Romney takes as the symbolic chief of his campaign. Throw in his statewide co-chair Meg Whitman, an old Romney chum who was the 2010 Republican candidate for governor and now heads Hewlett-Packard Corp. Whitman’s poll standing two years ago plummeted suddenly when it was revealed that she had employed an undocumented immigrant housekeeper for years, knew the employee was here illegally and dumped the housekeeper summarily just as she announced she was running for governor. Not exactly a move calculated to win popularity among Hispanic voters, once it became widely known.
The rest of Romney’s California cast is purely GOP boilerplate, but completely ignores the one Republican who has lately cut into Democratic majorities among Hispanics in this state: ex-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. True, Schwarzenegger is not particularly popular these days, but if Romney really intended to challenge for California votes, he would include a moderate like Schwarzenegger, rather than sticking exclusively with conservatives.
What’s more, Romney left it to Wilson to respond for the slate of chairs, co-chairs and steering committee members – none of whom will actually be expected to do much. “The members of (Romney’s) California leadership team have already been hard at work spreading his …message and working to ensure that President Obama is defeated in November,” Wilson said.
Not exactly fiery rhetoric, but about what you’d expect from a half-hearted campaign that’s throwing in the towel in the nation’s largest state long before the political season gets intense.