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Davis, California

Monday, October 18, 2021

Column: A partisan state

It is an unusual experience to attend an election night gathering for a campaign you’ve managed. It is even more unusual for it to be a victory party – if you’re a Republican in California.

Across the country, Republicans did fairly well. A few analysts were forecasting enormous Republican wins, up to 100 seats in the House and regaining a majority in the Senate. They built up such an image of impending Republican domination that we may think anything less is coming up short, but we would be mistaken.

Though I am no genius at predicting races, the results were more or less as I expected. The Republicans won many Senate victories, in Kentucky, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Arkansas. As of press time, Colorado and Washington remain too close to call. A net gain of 60 House victories was spread across the country, with several more races still undecided.

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) survived, while Republican senatorial candidates went down in Delaware, Connecticut and West Virginia. Closest to home for me, after a few years working in California politics, was the defeat of Carly Fiorina by the incumbent Barbara Boxer.

Nationwide, most Republicans are quite happy, but the state of California went in a very different direction. Again as of press time, not a single statewide Republican candidate had won, with attorney general candidate Steve Cooley closest at 0.2 percent behind Democrat Kamala Harris, who has already declared victory. Republicans David Harmer in CD-11 and Andy Vidak in CD-20, respectively, have nearly tied races, while Van Tran lost to incumbent Democrat Loretta Sanchez in CD-47 by a substantial margin.

The message is clear: Democratic California continues to be strongly Democratic.

This is peculiar when we examine two simple facts. California has been controlled by Democrats for decades, and California has been driven into the ground. I have zero interest in partisan battles or fierce loyalties to party for the sake of party, so I won’t claim that Democrats are always horrible and Republicans are demigods. In fact, this is precisely my point – blind partisanship has failed us.

The very first thing a congressional campaign manager must do when considering a job is to look at the registration numbers – how many Democrats, how many Republicans, how many decline-to-states. This unfortunate necessity is based in reality. No matter what a campaign does or how much it spends, most Democrats vote Democrat and most Republicans vote Republican.

So in a state like California, when the Democrats have owned the legislature literally for decades and Gov. Schwarzenegger is considered “too conservative,” on the heels of the mediocre governorship of Democrat Gray Davis, the people may well vote Democratic anyway. Party affiliation is just too strong of a factor. This despite what is, in my opinion, very significant evidence against the Democratic method of governing lately.

Yet, the mood in the Loren Hanks for Congress election party in downtown Napa Tuesday night remained upbeat and energetic. (This is a campaign I have managed since April.) The television was alternately answered with cheers and whistles or boos and hisses, depending on the numbers or the politicians on the screen. I sat in the corner, poring over the election results in various counties and refreshing the secretary of state’s website every few minutes for updates.

The scene was typical for the election night parties I’ve been to. Almost a hundred people milling around, laughing, drinking, talking politics (what else?). Diehards gathered in a crescent shape by the television, and every Republican victory was greeted like a touchdown at the Superbowl.

Even as the anticipated numbers came in and did not point to a win in Hanks’ district, CD-1 (which includes UC Davis and most of Yolo County), he maintained quite a sense of humor in speaking with the crowd, and summed it up optimistically.

“The results show we reached well beyond Republicans to get independents and Democrats to our side,” he said. “This race has been a good first step in a long campaign to return the country to a constitutional foundation.”

And ultimately, I thought on the long drive home in the middle of the night, that’s what it must be about. Not voters scanning for D’s and R’s, or supporters cheering and jeering, but finding what works to replace what hasn’t worked. And finding that may take us Californians a little while longer.

ROB OLSON would really like to hear how the Democrats have earned so much power to govern this state. Let him know at rwolson@ucdavis.edu.

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