GOP showing in Calif. worries party strategists

Associated Press Modified: November 10, 2012 at 6:00 pm •  Published: November 10, 2012
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Celeste Greig, president of the conservative California Republican Assembly, said in an email to supporters Friday that the party was in need of a makeover, emphasizing Main Street over Wall Street.

"We have to admit that as a party in California, we're just plain disorganized," she wrote.

Romney bypassed California this year, waging his fight in battlegrounds such as Ohio and Florida. In claiming the biggest electoral prize in America, California's 55 electoral votes, Obama rolled up a nearly 21 percent margin. Voters also returned Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein to Washington in a landslide, after Republicans put up a virtually unknown candidate, Elizabeth Emken, an autism activist who had never held elected office.

Independents now outnumber Republicans in 13 congressional districts in California, a trend analysts predict will continue.

California counted more registered Republicans in 1988 than it does today, although the population has grown by about 10 million over that time. You'd have to go back to that year to find a Republican presidential candidate who carried the state, George H.W. Bush.

Surprisingly, Democrats continued to make gains in the state even at a time of double-digit unemployment, with polls showing that voters are unhappy with Sacramento and Washington. And it could get worse for the GOP. Republicans are trailing in two other House races in which the vote counting continues.

It remains unclear what direction Democrats, who have close ties to public employee unions, will take with their additional clout. If they achieve the supermajority in both houses of the Legislature, Democrats can pass tax increases and override gubernatorial vetoes without any Republican support.

The state is saddled with a litany of problems, including a long-running budget crisis, massive, unfunded public pension obligations, tuition increases at California universities and growing demands for water, affordable housing and energy.

Gov. Jerry Brown sounded a cautionary note this week, saying he intended to avoid spending binges.

Still, Democrats believe they have the state's demographics on their side with a message that appeals to a younger, more diverse population.

More than half the young voters in the state, ages 18 to 39, are Hispanic, according to the independent Field Poll. Thirty-five percent are Asian. If you look into a classroom in the Los Angeles area — tomorrow's voters — 3 of 4 kids are Hispanic.

The GOP retains pockets of influence regionally, including rural, inland areas.

Republican National Committee member Shawn Steel has been pushing the party to become more aggressive about recruiting Asians.

"It's not just all about the Latinos," he says.

Schmidt traces GOP troubles with Hispanics to 1994, when voters with encouragement from Republican Gov. Pete Wilson enacted Proposition 187, which prohibited illegal immigrants from using health care, education or other social services.

The law eventually was overturned, but it left lingering resentment with many Hispanics at a time when the Latino population was growing swiftly and becoming increasingly important in elections.

California "is not just a large state, population-wise, it's a trend-setting state," said Schmidt, a public relations strategist. "It could be a glimpse of the future."

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Follow Michael R. Blood at http://twitter.com/MichaelRBloodAP