LOS ANGELES – California’s tarnished Republican Party is hoping to rebound in a handful of U.S. House races but its candidates must overcome widespread loathing for President Donald Trump and voting trends that have made the nation’s most populous state an exemplar of Democratic strength.
The presidential contest is essentially over in California — Trump lost by more than 4 million votes to Hillary Clinton in 2016 and appears headed for another drubbing from Joe Biden and vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris, the home-state senator.
California's GOP has been sinking for years but the party is hoping to change course by tapping into voter frustration in a cluster of House districts lost to Democrats in 2018, including in the one-time GOP stronghold of Orange County sandwiched between Los Angeles and San Diego.
Candidates have been trying to make Sacramento’s lopsided government a defining issue, faulting the state's dominant Democrats for the homeless crisis plaguing big cities, high taxes that could soon go up again and government coronavirus orders that shuttered businesses and closed gyms, beaches and parks.
Republican chances of gaining ground remain uncertain, as early voting begins Monday for the Nov. 3 election. State Democrats tend to turn out in droves in presidential election years, and it’s not yet clear how the fight over the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy might influence who goes to the polls.
California was the launching pad for Republican Presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, and GOP nominees carried the state in nine of 10 presidential elections from 1952 to 1988. But California's politics changed with a diversifying population and the GOP's recent record speaks for itself: Republicans hold just seven of the state’s 53 House seats, and the party hasn’t won a statewide race in California since 2006.
Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by nearly 2-1 statewide and have commanding majorities in both chambers of the Legislature. In a tally released last week, Republicans were able to narrowly overtake the number of registered independents after the GOP had been pushed into humiliating third-place status. Democrats still have a wide lead.
To win, GOP candidates have to contend with Trump leading the ticket. He is out of step with most California voters on climate change, immigration and reproductive rights. Independents who make up nearly 1-in-4 voters tend to lean Democratic, and new registrations are dominated by younger Asians and Hispanics who rank among the state's most liberal voters. And GOP candidates need to win back suburbanites who recoiled from the Trump agenda in 2018 and helped return the House to Democratic control.