State’s GOP may drop to new lows

House cau­cus could hit sin­gle dig­its if Dems win tight races

The Mercury News - - Front Page - By John Wool­folk jwool­folk@ ba­yare­anews­group.com

Cal­i­for­nia Repub­li­cans woke up Wed­nes­day to the pos­si­bil­ity that their dwin­dling power in the Golden State could drop to lev­els not seen in 71 years.

Democrats were on the cusp of claim­ing a clean sweep in Sacra­mento by lock­ing up ev­ery statewide of­fice, in­clud­ing Gavin New­som’s nearly 20-point vic­tory in the gov­er­nor’s race, and re­gain­ing a su­per­ma­jor­ity in the Leg­is­la­ture. Repub­li­cans didn’t even have a can­di­date in the other race at the top of the ticket that sent Sen. Dianne Fe­in­stein back to Wash­ing­ton.

And five vul­ner­a­ble GOP House seats re­mained locked in races that were still too close to call, with a sixth flip­ping to Democrats by Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon.

Democrats didn’t need Cal­i­for­nia to clinch con­trol of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives from Repub­li­cans on Tues­day, but re­sults Wed­nes­day showed their can­di­dates nar­rowly lead­ing in two of the five nail-biters in Repub­li­can-held dis­tricts that voted for Hil­lary Clin­ton in the 2016 elec­tion, and Demo­crat Mike Levin nailed down a vic­tory in the dis­trict of re­tir­ing GOP Rep. Dar­ryl Issa that in­cludes Dana Point and San Cle­mente.

Head­ing into Tues­day’s elec­tion, Repub­li­cans held 14 of Cal­i­for­nia’s 53 seats in the House. If Democrats pull out four of the re­main­ing con­tested GOP seats, they would whit­tle the Repub­li­can cau­cus down to sin­gle dig­its

for the first time since 1947 — back when the state had only 23 seats.

“There are now fewer Repub­li­cans in the Cal­i­for­nia House del­e­ga­tion than there are play­ers on the ros­ter of the Golden State War­riors,” said Dan Sch­nur, a pro­fes­sor at USC’s An­nen­berg School for Com­mu­ni­ca­tion and UC Berke­ley’s In­sti­tute of Gov­ern­men­tal Stud­ies and a for­mer GOP con­sul­tant. The War­riors have 14 play­ers.

As of Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon, chal­lengers Katie Hill in the 25th Dis­trict and Har­ley Rouda in the 48th Dis­trict were slightly lead­ing their GOP ri­vals to flip those seats and widen the Democrats’ grip on the House.

Rouda, a lawyer and real es­tate busi­ness­man, was edg­ing out the GOP’s nearly 30-year in­cum­bent Dana Rohrabacher 50.7 per­cent to 49.3 per­cent with all precincts counted in the coastal Or­ange County dis­trict that in­cludes Hunt­ing­ton Beach and La­guna Beach.

In the 25th Dis­trict that in­cludes Simi Val­ley, Repub­li­can in­cum­bent Steve Knight, first elected in 2014, was trail­ing non­profit ex­ec­u­tive

Hill, 51.3 per­cent to 48.7 per­cent, with al­most all precincts counted.

Levin, an en­vi­ron­men­tal lawyer, pulled de­ci­sively ahead of for­mer Repub­li­can state Assem­bly mem­ber and state Board of Equal­iza­tion mem­ber Diane Harkey 53.5 per­cent to 46.5 per­cent with all precincts counted Wed­nes­day in the 49th Dis­trict.

Repub­li­can in­cum­bents Mimi Wal­ters in the 45th Dis­trict and Jeff Den­ham in the 10th were slightly ahead of their Demo­crat chal­lengers with all precincts counted. Wal­ters led Katie Porter 51.7 per­cent to 48.3 per­cent in her Irvine area dis­trict. Den­ham led Josh Harder 50.6 per­cent to 49.4 per­cent in his Modesto area dis­trict.

And the GOP’s Young Kim, a state Assem­bly mem­ber, was lead­ing Demo­crat Gil Cis­neros, a vet­er­ans and ed­u­ca­tion ad­vo­cate, 51.3 per­cent to 48.7 per­cent with all precincts counted for the seat of re­tir­ing Repub­li­can Ed Royce in the 39th Dis­trict north of Ana­heim and south­east of Los An­ge­les.

It can take weeks for fi­nal re­sults to set­tle close races, par­tic­u­larly in Cal­i­for­nia, which al­lows vot­ers to mail their bal­lots or sub­mit con­di­tional or pro­vi­sional bal­lots on Elec­tion Day. Lo­cal elec­tion of­fi­cials have a month to ver­ify and tally all the bal­lots.

Cal­i­for­nia Repub­li­cans had banked on a cam­paign to re­peal a gas tax in­crease to give the GOP a boost in its con­tested House races. But the gas tax re­peal, Propo­si­tion 6, lost de­ci­sively statewide, with 44.6 per­cent in fa­vor and 55.4 per­cent op­posed.

How­ever, it passed in key coun­ties of San Diego and Or­ange that en­com­passed con­tested GOP House seats. But while op­po­si­tion to the gas tax fu­eled the suc­cess­ful June re­call of Demo­cratic state Sen. Josh New­man and his re­place­ment by Repub­li­can Ling Ling Chang in Or­ange County, deny­ing Democrats a su­per­ma­jor­ity, Democrats were poised Wed­nes­day to win back their two-thirds mar­gin in the state Se­nate, al­low­ing them to pass tax in­creases and other ex­tra­or­di­nary mea­sures with­out Repub­li­can votes.

In the bat­tle for the Se­nate seat of a termed-out Repub­li­can in the Merced to Sali­nas area, Demo­cratic Assem­bly­woman Anna Ca­ballero was lead­ing Repub­li­can Rob Poythress 50.5 per­cent to 49.5 per­cent Wed­nes­day with all precincts re­port­ing. Assem­bly Democrats main­tained the su­per­ma­jor­ity they cur­rently hold.

Cal­i­for­nia’s GOP has been on the ropes since for­mer Gov. Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger and for­mer In­sur­ance Com­mis­sioner Steve Poizner — the last Repub­li­cans elected statewide — left of­fice in 2011.

Repub­li­cans this year fell to third-party sta­tus in voter reg­is­tra­tion be­hind vot­ers claim­ing no po­lit­i­cal party, with fewer than one in four Cal­i­for­nia vot­ers now reg­is­tered Repub­li­can. Democrats ac­count for 43.5 per­cent of reg­is­tered vot­ers and those claim­ing no party 27.5 per­cent.

“They say that noth­ing is for­ever, but this cer­tainly is for the fore­see­able fu­ture,” said Jack Citrin, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at UC Berke­ley.

As a sign of the GOP brand’s fad­ing lus­ter in Cal­i­for­nia, Poizner ran as an in­de­pen­dent this year for his for­mer of­fice of In­sur­ance Com­mis­sioner. He was trail­ing

Demo­crat Ri­cardo Lara, a state law­maker, 50.8 per­cent to 49.2 per­cent with all precincts counted early Wed­nes­day.

Sch­nur said the GOP’s fo­cus on na­tional pol­i­tics, a for­mula that works in the more ru­ral and con­ser­va­tive east­ern parts of Cal­i­for­nia, has not de­liv­ered vi­able can­di­dates with statewide ap­peal. And Sch­nur noted that Repub­li­cans in other Demo­crat-dom­i­nated states have fig­ured out ways to get can­di­dates elected — like Gov. Char­lie Baker of deep-blue Mas­sachusetts.

The last Repub­li­can can­di­date who al­ready had po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence when run­ning for gov­er­nor was for­mer At­tor­ney Gen­eral Dan Lun­gren, who lost to Gray Davis 20 years ago. The GOP’s of­fer­ing in Tues­day’s gov­er­nor race, John Cox, is a busi­ness­man with no elected ex­pe­ri­ence who lost hand­ily to New­som, the lieu­tenant gov­er­nor and for­mer San Fran­cisco mayor.

“They need to find good can­di­dates and play a del­i­cate dance with the na­tional Repub­li­cans given the dis­like or am­biva­lence about Trump” in Cal­i­for­nia, Citrin said.

DAMIAN DOVARGANES — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Costa Mesa, ad­dresses the me­dia and sup­port­ers wait­ing for elec­tion re­sults in Costa Mesa on Tues­day. He is nar­rowly los­ing as of Wed­nes­day.

KYUSUNG GONG — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED

Har­ley Rouda, Demo­cratic con­gres­sional can­di­date in the 48th Dis­trict, ad­dresses his sup­port­ers Tues­day night in Newport Beach. He holds a nar­row lead as of Wed­nes­day.

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