November 4, 2008 was a day that will go down in history. Record numbers of Californians cast ballots in the presidential election, delivering the state for Barack Obama and Joe Biden, electing Democrats up and down the ticket and culminating an election that represents a truly generational shift in the political process.
From the beginning, this campaign was about bringing people together for change. The issues facing California and our nation are too great for the old politics of division and fear, and Californians were able to rise to the challenge.
This election brought out millions of Californians who have never been interested in politics, never volunteered on a campaign, and many who have never been registered to vote before. Thanks to the tireless efforts of local Democratic parties and clubs, by the time voters went to the polls on Election Day, registered Democrats outnumbered Republicans in the Golden State by 2,255,443 voters.
But the Democratic Party’s success in this year’s election was months, if not years, in the making.
In February, California Democrats headed to the polls in unprecedented numbers in the presidential primary, with the highest percentage turnout in more than a quarter-century. The California Democratic Party opened their primary and allowed “decline-to-state” voters to vote, (while the Republican Party did not), which helped to increase the excitement for Democratic candidates among these independent voters.
On a Sunday afternoon in April, more than 23,000 Democrats across the state turned out to support the more than 2,500 candidates running to fill just 241 slots for congressional-level delegate to the Democratic National Convention. The result: thousands of new Democrats became involved in the election, and California once again sent the most diverse delegation in the entire nation to the historic convention in Denver.
As the presidential, congressional, and legislative races heated up this fall, the momentum built upon itself and lasted for the duration.
Traditionally Republican “red counties” turned “blue” as new Democrats joined our ranks in Ventura, Stanislaus, San Bernardino, and San Diego counties. That’s right – San Diego County – where the last time the county was “blue” in 1984, President Reagan was running for re-election, Arnold Schwarzenegger was starring in “The Terminator” and gasoline cost just over one dollar a gallon. Not only did four red counties turn blue, but a whopping 11 other “red” counties were won by Obama.
What was it that brought this level of interest and amount of attention onto the political stage? Was it really about a word called hope? In part, yes. But it was also due in part to despair, because such is the state of our nation after eight years of the disastrous Bush/Cheney policies.
Despair can lead to two very different mindsets: one of cynical despondency that leads to inaction, the other a mindset born of ideals and optimism, a sense of hope. That the future will indeed be brighter, that the worse is behind us, that better days are ahead. We are extremely thankful that our state and nation chose the latter and by doing so have ensured a brighter, more hopeful future.
On the morning of November 5th, allowing little rest for the weary, California Democrats immediately set our collective sight on the 2010 election. Just less than two years from now, Californians will elect a new governor and Senator Barbara Boxer will be up for re-election to the United States Senate.
Without a doubt, Republicans in the Golden State will be hungry for victory. Democrats in Washington will hold the executive branch and both houses of Congress, and here in California we’ll have an increased majority in the Legislature and a number of highly qualified candidates running to replace Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The generational shift we saw in this year’s election requires responsibility on our part to maintain support for this movement we’ve built. And we can only maintain this support if we live up to our promises and lead in a way that makes our state and nation proud.
That is exactly what we intend to do.