The latest reminder of the California Republican Party’s death spiral came recently as Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom heads to what news reports call a re-election “cakewalk.” As the June 7 primary approaches, the GOP candidates with the best name recognition have announced that they will not challenge Newsom in this election cycle.
That includes radio talk-show host Larry Elder and former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, the top GOP vote-getters during last year’s failed recall. That leaves a field of mostly unknown challengers to take on a governor with a $25 million war chest.
Those include little-known Republican Sen. Brian Dahle from the rural far north. As Capitol Public Radio noted, Dahle “doesn’t have much to lose” with a quixotic gubernatorial bid, given that he is termed out in two years and can use the campaign to build name identification for some future race.
The most interesting announced candidate is Michael Shellenberger. Author of the 2021 book, “San Fransicko: Why Progressives Ruin Cities,” he ran for governor as a Democrat in 2018 and is running now as an independent. He won’t pose a real challenge, but he might interject some interesting ideas.
Expect more outsider candidates to choose the independent label in the coming years. The only non-Democrat to come close to winning statewide office recently was Steve Poizner, the former Republican who received 47% of the vote as an independent candidate in 2018 for insurance commissioner.
As of January, 46.7% of the state’s registered voters are Democrats, 24% are Republicans and 22.9% chose no party preference. Republicans have a huge road back to relevancy, but they have been unable to capitalize on the state’s myriad challenges. That’s our biggest frustration.
California’s one-party government has failed to deal with a sprawling homeless problem, growing crime rates, soaring housing costs, continued out-migration, crumbling infrastructure, water shortages and scandals in its government agencies, including the multibillion-dollar fiasco at the Employment Development Department.
Democrats have offered few good ideas and done little more than propose new spending programs, including wasting time on an ill-fated single-payer proposal that would upend the state’s entire healthcare system. There’s plenty of political ammunition, but the GOP has largely rehashed campaign themes from a past era, few of which have resonated with voters.
The GOP is in a real bind. The party’s conservatives want to double down on Trumpism, in a state where Donald Trump is as popular as typhoid. But those candidates who distance themselves from Trump — note Faulconer’s awkward transition from Never Trump to Kind Of Trump — alienate the Republican voters that the party needs to have any hope for victory.
Meanwhile, our state is crying out for some new ideas that come from political competition. We endorsed the recall and backed Larry Elder because it seemed like he could reframe the political discussion. Unfortunately, Elder ran as if it were a primary — and it was child’s play for the Democrats to depict the effort as partisan. The “yes” vote (38%) closely approximated the recent totals received by GOP candidates. That led to the coming cakewalk.
We have no easy solutions here, but the GOP has another four years to retool its message. The sooner it figures out how to do so, the better.
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