The 2006 elections showed more forcefully the limits of a one-party sweep. Elsewhere, Democrats grabbed control of Congress and made big gains, but in California not much changed hands legislatively, and Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger romped to reelection.
California "does tend to protect itself from national movements in both directions," said Dan Schnur, a former Republican consultant who now heads the state Fair Political Practices Commission. "That's not to say the national trends don't matter, they just tend to matter less out here than they do in other places."
Republicans received new cause for hope last month when Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee of San Luis Obispo won a special election for the state Senate. Although he replaced a Republican, Blakeslee's win came in a district won overwhelmingly in 2008 by Barack Obama, and Democrats had worked to pick up the seat. Republicans credited the Blakeslee victory to a get-out-the-vote effort that they hope to replicate statewide in November.
Voter turnout models for November already show Republicans with an advantage over their paltry voter registration numbers, but triumph for their candidates still rests on Democrats staying home and nonpartisan voters breaking with tradition to side with the GOP.
"The worry the Democrats have is that the base will be so disenchanted that they won't turn out, and the bottom line is that's when Republicans close the gap — the registration gap and the demographic gap," said USC political scientist Sherry Bebitch Jeffe.
Labor unions and the remnants of the Obama campaign structure are scrambling to persuade Latinos, union members and 2008 voters to show up, despite the usual drop-off in interest after a presidential campaign.
Quinn, the GOP demographer, cautions that the contours of this election appear situational and at this point say little about the 2012 presidential contest or other future elections.
"It's all a reaction to what they are seeing in their daily lives, not a realignment of the state or anything else," he said. Still, he added, "it sure is far from what it was two years ago."