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State's GOP is sinking fast

As the party triumphs nationally, California's Republicans suffer staggering losses. It's past time for them to reexamine their positions.

November 22, 2010|George Skelton | Capitol Journal

From Sacramento — Go ahead: Accuse me of shooting the wounded. But it may be that the body already is dead.

I'm referring to the California Republican Party.

How alive could the state GOP be after suffering the pounding it took on Nov. 2, a day of historic party triumph elsewhere across America?

"It's not just wounded, it's in a coma," says Republican Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado.

Maldonado was one of several Republican victims on election day. He lost the lieutenant governor's race to Democratic San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom.

I wouldn't be belaboring the obvious about the party's sorry shape except for a news release that caught my eye from veteran Republican consultant Kevin Spillane. He was senior strategist for Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley's campaign for attorney general.

Cooley was the biggest Republican vote-getter in California, which isn't saying much. At last count he was narrowly trailing Democratic San Francisco Dist. Atty. Kamala Harris by half a percentage point in their seesaw battle.

Most surprisingly, Cooley was beaten badly — by 14 points — in his home county, where he had won three district attorney races by landslides.

Why couldn't Cooley carry L.A.? Spillane points out that local races, unlike state contests, are nonpartisan. Local candidates don't list party affiliations.

"Cooley has been elected and reelected D.A. as an individual," Spillane wrote. "The moment the word 'Republican' appeared on the ballot next to [his] name in heavily Democratic Los Angeles County, it was a huge anchor that dragged him down, exacerbated by the collapse of the GOP ticket in the final week of the campaign."

GOP gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman wound up getting trounced by Democratic Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown.

It was the GOP as Republican "anchor" that raised my eyebrows.

Spillane added that the election results validated an October poll by the Public Policy Institute of California that found "Republican" to be a bad brand name in this left-leaning state.

The voters' impressions of the Republican Party were 2 to 1 negative: 31% favorable, 62% unfavorable. Even among registered Republicans — less than a third of the electorate — only 55% had a favorable impression of the GOP; 39% looked on it unfavorably.

Those numbers were basically reaffirmed in election day exit polling conducted for news organizations. The voters' opinions of the Republican Party were 33% favorable, 61% unfavorable. For the Democratic Party: 50% favorable, 45% unfavorable.

Even a quarter of Whitman's voters had an unfavorable view of the GOP.

Call it an anchor or an albatross, statewide candidates — in fact, most aspirants for partisan office in California — are burdened by the Republican label.

How else do you explain the following?

Nationally, Republicans picked up at least 61 seats in the U.S. House — reclaiming control — and gained six in the Senate.

Moreover, Republicans picked up nearly 700 state legislative seats across the country — the largest gain by either party since 1958 — and captured an additional 19 legislative chambers. The GOP gained a net five governorships.

Contrast that with California: Republicans lost one seat in the state Assembly, failed to gain ground in the Senate or — apparently — the congressional delegation, and lost both the gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races.

In fact, it's looking like the entire GOP statewide ticket will be swept by Democrats, unless Cooley squeaks through in final counting.

What amazes Spillane is that the Democratic winners include career politicians Jerry Brown and Sen. Barbara Boxer, and Newsom, who famously defied the law six years ago by allowing same-sex couples to marry in San Francisco.

I'd also include Harris, a San Francisco liberal who opposes the death penalty even for cop killers. She's now a short step from the attorney general's office.

"Controversial liberal icons like Jerry Brown, Barbara Boxer and Gavin Newsom all winning decisively — that's remarkable," the GOP consultant says. "These are not generic Democrats. They're prickly Bay Area liberals.

"Being a liberal from San Francisco is not a negative anymore. Being a Republican is a greater liability."

I called Jon Fleischman, a conservative blogger — Flash Report — and Southern California vice chairman of the Republican Party. "Political parties are defined by office-holders and candidates," he says.

"We have been defined by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Meg Whitman. And I don't know that anyone could tell you what the California Republican Party stands for anymore....

"We've watched our brand name get ruined and the party destroyed by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Hopefully we can develop a better brand once he's gone."

True, Schwarzenegger isn't a popular party flag bearer. But he did try to caution the GOP at a state convention three years ago that "in movie terms … we are dying at the box office. We are not filling the seats."

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