California Republicans slide into irrelevancy
The California state Republican Party is a mess. Its factions openly war with one another and there is little agreement between them about what exactly is a Republican.
The situation has gotten so bad that recent polls show the state GOP slipping into third place behind Democrats and "no party preference."
The new figures come as the state looms large in the national battle for the House, with a handful of Republican-held seats poised to play a pivotal role in November.
Among California's 19 million registered voters, the latest statistics – as of 15 days before the June 5 primary – show that Democrats now make up 8.4 million or 44.6 percent of the electorate.
That compares with 4,844,803 no-party-preference voters, or 25.5 percent of the state's voters and 4,771,984 Republicans, who both make up about 25.1 percent. The California Secretary of State's office is expected to release its own official count later this week.
A decade after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger – the last elected GOP statewide official – was lambasted for warning his fellow Republicans that their party was "dying at the box office," the new numbers underscore the collapse of the GOP in California. The ranks of Republican voters have disintegrated by 10 percentage points since 1998, when they made up 35 percent of the voter rolls.
Democratic numbers have also declined, though not nearly as dramatically – the party made up 46.8 percent of the voter rolls a decade ago. By contrast, the percentage of "no party preference" voters in the state has more than doubled in the past two decades, the latest data showed.
Combined with California's open primary system, where the top two vote-getters in every legislative and congressional district will face off in the general election regardless of party, and it's no wonder national Democrats have been licking their chops, hoping to bury GOP candidates in congressional districts and bring them the grand prize: takeover of the House.
But as bad as things are for Republicans, Democrats are poorly situated to take advantage. The reason? A "short bench," as they say in politics, meaning a dearth of qualified and electable candidates.
Particularly in Orange County, the epicenter of the competition for House seats in the state, Democrats are confronting what could be called a "resume gap." While Republicans are fielding an array of candidates who are current or former elected officials, Democrats are relying entirely on first-time contenders who entered their races without any elected experience, existing political networks, or name identification in their districts. That's making it tougher for any of the Democratic candidates to consolidate support within their party.
The lack of experienced candidates "without question poses a big problem to the Democrats," said Michael Moodian, a political scientist at Chapman College in the city of Orange. "The reason is that for decades the Orange County Republican Party has done a much better job than the Democrats at establishing a farm team of candidates."
The Democratic civil war has broken out with a vengeance in California with radical, extreme, unelectable candidates challenging less radical, less extreme Democrats. The result is interesting. The Democratic vote becomes split in two or three pieces, leaving an opening for an electable Republican to be on the ballot in November.
As badly as the GOP is splintered, Republicans can easily unite against a Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren acolyte. That's what has Democrats in California already trying to explain away what should be a night that buried the state GOP for good.