Will a red wave crest the Sierras?

While the title of this column assumes that Republicans will do very well nationally on election day, it’s not just idle speculation. Democrats and pundits have all but conceded the inevitability. Political junkies will also tell you that it is confirmed by several factors beyond polling. For example, in races that were once thought to be competitive, Democrats have shifted resources to safer districts to protect incumbents.

For fiscal conservatives, voting for GOP candidates is usually – but not always – the safer bet. So, if the predictions of a “Red Wave” are accurate, does this portend a seismic shift in political power here in California as well as hope for the state’s beleaguered taxpayers? While history suggests not, since “Red Waves” typically fail to clear the Sierra Mountain range, there may be some rays of sunshine.

First, the history, which suggests tough sledding for the Republicans. In three election cycles during the last 20 years, Republicans performed much better than expected nationally but underperformed in California. For example, in 2010, when national Republicans gained 63 seats in the House of Representatives, and biggest party swing since 1948, California Republicans lost a seat in the California Assembly and Democrats won every statewide office.

In 2014, Republicans picked up 13 seats nationally. But while Republicans in California picked up seats in both the Assembly and Senate, every statewide office was again won by the Democrats.

The 2016 election saw Donald Trump swept into the White House and Republicans returned to power in Congress, albeit with diminished majorities. In California, Republicans lost seats in both houses of the Legislature, and in California’s first open Senate seat in 24 years, two Democrats made it into the top-two.

While California has failed to benefit from good years for conservatives, bad years are when Republican losses mount even higher. In 2018, when national Republicans lost control of the House, Democrats in California surged to a two-thirds supermajority in the state Senate and three-fourths supermajority in the Assembly. In the gubernatorial election, Gavin Newsom defeated John Cox by the biggest margin since Earl Warren won re-election in 1950.

The history outlined above can, for conservatives, turn the most optimistic voter into a Debbie Downer. So, where’s that ray of sunshine?

Simple. It can be found in the issue set.

While Democrats focus on Trump, January 6th, abortion and (did we mention Trump?), Republicans are talking about inflation, crime, homelessness, and school test scores. An argument can be made that on each of these issues the situation is worse in California. Take, for example, the price of gas, which is the highest in the nation. And California has a larger homeless population than any other state, notwithstanding the billions of dollars being spent (ineffectively) propping up the homeless industrial complex.

Because Republicans are talking about the issues that Californians care about, there appears to be a strong likelihood that they can pick up both Congressional seats and state legislative offices. The most hotly contested congressional races are in Orange County and the Central Valley. Mega bucks are being spent in these fights but as noted above, in one race Democrats have pulled money away from the campaign of Christy Smith, who is running against Republican incumbent Mike Garcia. This suggests that Democrats believe this congressional seat will remain red.

For state legislative races, the issues of inflation, water, and energy costs are particularly salient in the Central Valley. This is not good news for Democrats given that, nationally, Hispanic voters are trending away from them.

That is impacting races in the Central Valley seemingly in play. One particularly interesting race is in state Senate District 16 where Melissa Hurtado, the Democratic incumbent, is facing off against Republican David Shepard. Shepard came in first with 43.6 percent in the primary while Hurtado received only 29.7 percent of the vote. What makes it even more interesting is when you add up all the primary votes by party, the three Democrats shared 48.4 percent while the two Republicans split 51.5 percent of the vote. This is stunning given that voter registration in this district is D+13.28 and Biden won it by eight points.

The attempt to prognosticate election results is to tread through a minefield in which few should dare enter. But if the expected Red Wave crests the Sierras, it will be because progressives tried to tell voters what they should care about rather than listen to what the voters themselves actually care about.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association