CA120: An ‘OMG’ blue wave in California politics
California is at the epicenter of what could be a Democratic wave, and that’s amazing.
In this election cycle, we are seeing something really astounding, yet many are treating it as if it was normal.
Californians are poised to give Democrats anywhere from two to five — or even more — of the 24 Republican congressional seats across the country that Democrats need to win control of the House of Representatives. That’s according to the latest polling from Berkeley’s Institute for Governmental Studies conducted by respected pollster Mark DiCamillo, formerly of the Field Poll.
The survey was financed by the L.A. Times, which did an excellent write-up here, and you can find more details about how the poll was conducted here. (DiCamillo previously discussed this methodology in an article for Capitol Weekly and in a podcast.)
The poll covered eight California congressional districts, each with Republican incumbents:
–The 10th (Jeff Denham)
–The 22nd (Devin Nunes),
–The 25th (Steve Knight)
–The 39th (currently open with the retirement of Republican Ed Royce)
–The 45th (Mimi Walters)
–The 48th (Dana Rohrabacher)
–The 49th (currently open with the retirement of Darrell Issa)
–The 50th (Duncan Hunter).
The survey’s findings show Democrats in four districts with strong chances of winning, two districts that are complete toss-ups and two others that are looking a bit more safe for Republicans.
Not one of the Democratic candidates in competitive seats has been elected to any office — not so much as a school board or city council.
Not included in this polling are two other targeted House seats with GOP incumbents — the 4th (Tom McClintock) and the 21st (David Valadao). We are seeing Democratic activity in both, although these districts aren’t high in the national rankings of potential Democratic pickups.
These are dire straits for Republican incumbents. And, when these polls came out, most political observers had been hearing about this possibility for so long that it was treated as a given.
But we shouldn’t see this as some kind of obvious outcome for a gubernatorial election in California. We should actually take a moment, a month away from the election, to reflect on just how surprising this all is.
Looking back at the last gubernatorial election cycle, you can see how easily Republicans won most of these seats. Their winning margin, on average, was 28 points. And yet on average they are losing in 2018 by 5 points – a 32-point switch in four years!
Yes, national waves are common, particularly in mid-term elections, and usually surge against the party in power. This is national politics 101.
The most recent example was in 2010 when Republicans gained a whopping 63 seats in the first mid-term after electing President Barack Obama. And the Republican gains didn’t stop there: They picked up six governors and flipped 20 state legislative chambers.
In six states, both the upper and lower houses flipped from Democratic to Republican control. Overall, during the eight years of the Obama Presidency, Republicans flipped over 1,100 congressional, gubernatorial and statehouse seats across the nation.
In the 2010 wave election, the Republicans’ gains stopped at the Nevada border. In fact, California was the only state to actually flip a Republican seat to Democratic control.
During Obama’s two terms, Republicans, led by Tea Party activists, achieved more single-party control than we have seen since 1929. And it was happening everywhere.
Everywhere, except in California.
In the 2010 wave election, the Republicans’ gains stopped at the Nevada border. In fact, California was the only state to actually flip a Republican seat to Democratic control, when Dr. Richard Pan won a state Senate seat in Sacramento. It was like the entire country went one direction while California went another.
In the time since Obama was elected, California continued to buck this national trend at all levels.
Not one Republican has won a statewide office since 2006. Instead of losing statehouses, Democrats gained unprecedented numbers, making super-majorities in both the Senate and Assembly. Republicans also lost five congressional seats while Obama was president, dropping from 19 to just 14 of the state’s 53 member delegation.
If successful, Democrats would put Republicans at just 19% of the state’s congressional delegation.
Looking nationally, it makes absolute sense that over a thousand elected officials sitting in seats that were formerly held by Democrats — and won through anti-Obama sentiment — should be shaking in their boots. In any wave, you would expect those to be the lowest-hanging fruit, easily plucked once the Obama bogey-man is gone and replaced by a bogey-man for the other side in Trump.
But here in California?
Half of the 14 Republican-held districts have been listed as battlegrounds by the Cook Political Report. If Republicans were to lose four of those, their strength would have been cut in half since 2006 – dropping from 20 members to 10 in just 12 years.
If successful, Democrats would put Republicans at just 19% of the state’s congressional delegation. This is in a state with declining Republican registration but where Republicans, plus independents who consistently vote Republican, comprise 32% of registration, and 36% of likely voters.
In all but two seats, Democrats would need to accomplish this by taking out Republican office-holders who have withstood repeated Democratic “wave” elections, including 2016 when Orange County voted Democratic for the first time since the Great Depression.
And unlike national targets, in which most seats are seats held by pre-Obama Democrats, every one of the targeted districts in California has been held by a Republican for decades, amid different redistricting iterations.
These aren’t take-backs, they are overthrows.
Democrats would have to achieve this with candidates who have never even run a campaign before. Not one of the Democratic candidates in competitive seats has been elected to any office — not so much as a school board or city council. Come election night, this could be the hot-take you hear for why Democrats won (“They ran outsiders!”), or the reason they lost (“They ran inexperienced candidates!”) in these key districts.
And Democrats have to pull this off in a gubernatorial election cycle when key Democratic constituencies — such as millennials, minorities, renters and urban voters — usually don’t vote.
So, is this really going to happen? According to many experts, it will.
And that is amazing.
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