Like the fans of a baseball team whose only hope of avoiding a shutout is the final batter, California Republicans are nervously watching the fate of Steve Cooley as they ponder what went so terribly wrong for the GOP brand on Election Day.
Cooley's lead over Democrat Kamala Harris is currently less than 12,000 votes. But even a win in the AG's race isn't going to soothe the wounds of Republicans who were trounced in just about every competitive race in the state. Where do they go from here?
On this morning's edition of The California Report, I checked in with a few voices both inside and outside state Republican circles on the impact of last Tuesday's big losses for the state GOP, made all the more noticeable by the huge victories the national party celebrated everywhere else.
First, a few numbers. A review of voter registration data shows that the current 13 point gap between Republicans and Democratic ranks over the past year is larger than any time since at least 1992. That translates into more than two million less Republicans than Democrats -- tough odds to overcome.
But as you'll hear in the story, there's no one agreed upon reason for the party's poor showing last week. Some, like state party vice-chairman Jon Fleischman, argue top of the ticket candidate Meg Whitman did little to generate interest for the other party candidates. Fleischman also blames Arnold Schwarzenegger for, in a sense, watering down the GOP brand in the state.
Others, though, suggest that until the state party finds a winning message with two key voter subsets -- independents and Latinos -- its problems are likely to continue. Karen Hanretty, a former state party communications director now based in D.C., says GOP candidates around the country made inroads with swing voters this fall. And former state GOP vice-chairman Mario Rodriguez says he hopes California Republicans will finally start figuring out what Latino voters care about; the Tuesday exit poll found 22% of voters this season were Latino, a big surge from years past. Rodriguez was especially critical of the decision by GOP gubernatorial contender Steve Poizner to make illegal immigration a centerpiece of his failed bid, thus reopening old wounds for the party.
But the GOP rejection seemed to be more about candidates than issues; some say ballot measures dealing with fiscal issues met a fate closely aligned with the party's preferences. Of course, it will be Democrats -- not Republicans -- who voters have entrusted to carry out those wishes.