If one state has withstood the national GOP environment for the last two midterms it is California. Consider Republicans gained Congressional seats in WA State and CO in 2010, nearly won the Governorship in Oregon (split the legislature) and retook strong GOP seats in AZ and ID. They cruised to gubernatorial victories in NM and NV. Yet, in California, the GOP did not win a single race against an incumbent Democrat at any level.
Admittedly, this cycle there was little low hanging fruit for the GOP to win in the West. Arguably, the GOP lost two winnable races in Arizona but might win AZ-2 after a state mandated recount. There really were no competitive Congressional races in OR, WA State and New Mexico. The GOP did win a surprising victory in a Democratic leaning Congressional district in Nevada though and the ultimate prize was winning Colorado’s marquee Senate race.
Easily, the GOP’s best success came at the legislative level. Beyond holding all their Governorships the party took control of the WA State Senate, the Nevada House and Senate, Colorado Senate, New Mexico House and tightened its hold in the Arizona legislature. Unfortunately, this success was not replicated in California.
In 2010 California featured competitive Senatorial and Gubernatorial races. This drove turnout in down ballot races and yet the GOP did not capture any additional seats. This is partly due to the 2001 redistricting plan that was created as a deal to protect incumbents. In 2012, after redistricting, the GOP lost three seats and was reduced to a 15 member Congressional delegation (out of 55). Worse, Democrats established a two-thirds majority in both legislative chambers and thus could easily pass budgets without GOP support.
It is important to keep in mind what has happened since 2012. In 2013, the GOP won the contested San Diego mayoral race after the Democratic mayor stepped down in disgrace. At least three Democratic state senators were indicted or accused of corruption. Earlier this year, the Democratic legislature saw their new push for Affirmative Action squashed because of Democratic Asian American and GOP opposition.
Despite this, the strong Democratic orientation of the state has remained. The GOP came into the cycle with moderate ambitions for rebuilding the party in the state. They targeted CA-7, a district based in the Sacramento suburbs and CA-52, a GOP leaning district in midterms based around San Diego. The state party simply sought to become relevant in the legislature again and deny Democrats their 2/3rds majority in the legislature.
As of this writing it looks likely the GOP will, yet again, come up short on gaining a single Congressional district in the state. The GOP lost the CA-52 race when their candidate, Carl Demaio, imploded and CA-7 has swung the Democrats way thanks to late and absentee ballots coming in from metro Sacramento. The party was competitive in some surprising races, notably CA-16 and majority-minority Hispanic CA-31. However, CA-31 was a seat the GOP won in a fluke in 2012 so the party likely will come out of this election at an even more severe disadvantage in the Congressional Delegation.
Nobody expected the party’s gubernatorial nominee, Neel Kashkari, to win against Brown. Indeed, he won a dismal 40% of the vote in the state, no better than Meg Whitman’s showing in 2010. In fact, not a single GOP candidate for statewide office won.
The GOP’s success story is its success at the legislative level. At the start of the cycle the GOP was outnumbered in the state senate 27/12 and 54/25 in the house. After the election the GOP had won two new senate seats and three new house seats making them a relevant minority again (hold at least 1/3rd of both chambers legislative seats). This means they will at least have say in the 2015 and 2016 budgets.
Admittedly, this is not much to build on but the party did show it is willing to moderate by running a gay candidate for Congress and a American-Indian candidate for Governor. Even in loss the party might find success in the future.
Still, the GOP wave that struck the country this November and in 2010 missed California. Democrats have not had the same struggles as they have strengthen their hold on the state’s Congressional delegation and kept Republicans out of any statewide office in the age of Obama.
Addendum 1: Both CA-7 and CA-16 were called for Democrats late last night when absentee and provisional ballots gave them insurmountable leads. Yet again, the GOP failed to make any traction in the state’s Congressional delegation and actually lost a seat, CA-31.
Addendum 2: With the final results in, CA’s Congressional delegation now represents 38 of the House Democratic Caucus’s 188 seats. Combine this with WA State and OR and the number shoots up to 47. The rest of the Democratic Caucus comes from the Northeast and a few majority-minority and blue collar Midwest and Southern districts. Considering the GOP strength comes from the South it only heightens the likelihood the two Caucus’s will find any common ground on important issues.