Minutes after the polls closed on Election Day, pundits raced to explain why specific candidates won or lost, whether by a handful of votes, or a landslide. There were a few big surprises where supposedly “safe” Democrat seats were lost to Republican challengers. Those who suggest these victories were a fluke of some sort, doom themselves to lose again. Make no mistake, while modest, legislative gains made by GOP candidates were the result of a well-crafted strategy, quality candidates and disciplined campaigning. The blueprint for these elections can become a foundation for a continued Republican resurgence and, long-term, it can help the Party compete and win statewide.
The first element is structure. The GOP today has constructed a sustained program to recruit, train and elect Republicans to the state legislature. Visionary and accomplished leaders that have deep roots in their respective communities are able to become candidates knowing that there is an organized effort to provide tools, training, contacts and support. People, who would not otherwise have run, seized the opportunity and won.
Young Kim, Janet Nyguen, Ling-Ling Chang, James Gallagher, Catharine Baker and David Hadley illustrate this new Republican wave in California. They all have an unwavering commitment to public service and to creating a better future for California. They are also connected through their participation in California Trailblazers.
The Trailblazers program helps candidates master campaign fundamentals including fundraising, grassroots organizing, digital communications and media relations. This is the same approach taken by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s Young Guns program, which was widely heralded for the 2010 national Republican wave election. Sixty one Republican legislative candidates enrolled for trainings during the past election cycle. In just two election cycles, Trailblazers has delivered impressive results.
With a five-point voter registration advantage, Democrats had the upper hand in the race to fill the 34th state Senate district, which was previously held by Democrat Lou Correa. Janet Nyguen, a former Orange County Supervisor and Trailblazer, won in a landslide. The training program helped her build an effective campaign team and a strong knowledge of state policy. Through the trainings, she mastered the art of effectively communicating the policy ideas most important to her constituents.
Similarly, in the bay area, pundits and politicos had written off the Assembly District 16 race as a sure loser for Republicans, given low GOP registration and heavy union involvement in the race. However, Catharine Baker, an intelligent and well-respected community leader from Pleasanton, shocked the establishment and pulled off one of the most unlikely upsets in recent California history. Baker, also a Trailblazer, beat the hand-picked candidate of the California Teachers Association and a former adviser to Governor Jerry Brown. Baker used the skills she gained from the Trailblazers program to focus her message and organize a disciplined campaign. With seemingly limitless energy, Baker won.
In Los Angeles County, after all the ballots were counted, long-time south bay resident and business owner David Hadley displaced incumbent Democrat Al Muratsuchi in Assembly District 66. Hadley credits the Trailblazer program for helping him develop a sophisticated ground game, avoid campaign pitfalls and maximize his campaign’s effectiveness in a district that was considered a safe Democrat seat.
Similarly, Young Kim handily defeated an incumbent Democrat in Assembly District 65. Even with years of public service experience, Kim sharpened her campaign skills by attending every training and taking advantage of the experts available through the program. Kim’s efforts demonstrate how a winning campaign operation, along with hard work and a steadfast commitment to service, can lead a candidate to victory.
The Trailblazer wins enabled Republicans to break the Democrat supermajorities in both legislative houses and gives Republicans the opportunity to advance important policies that can help restore California’s economic competitiveness, prevent new taxes and deliver quality jobs in a state with the highest poverty rate in America.
The Trailblazers program will continue to expand the political playing field by supporting candidates in districts across the state, ensuring they have the training and resources to run winning campaigns and lead in Sacramento. As the 2015 legislative session begins, 10 Republicans enter the Senate and Assembly chambers with the distinction of being Trailblazer alumni. These candidates represent the future of the Republican Party and reignite hope of restoring the GOP.
Ed’s Note: Jessica Patterson, who served as statewide field director of the Meg Whitman for Governor campaign, is the CEO of California Trailblazers, a group that advocates for Republican causes.