Campaigns/Elections

How Cal Republicans Shot Selves in Both Feet, Missed '10 Bonanza

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Mike Moloney, we hardly knew ye.

The misshapen growth on the map above is California's 11th Congressional District, where Democratic incumbent Rep. Jerry McNerney narrowly stopped a challenge from Republican David Harmer. As the outdated numbers suggest, Harmer briefly seemed to have the lead, and he probably would have taken the seat if not for an exceptionally strong showing by American Independent Party candidate David Christensen.

The San Francisco Chronicle's Carolyn Lochhead notes that the 11th, a greater-East Bay district, is a polity built on "gerrymander-gone-awry…sprawling across four counties from Gilroy to Lodi."

As of now, California seems to have flipped only one House seat from the Democrats to the Republicans. In the Central Valley's 20th District, Republican challenger Andy Vidak leads incumbent Democrat Jim Costa by 693 votes, but that race still hasn't been called.

Why such a poor showing in the midst of a national landslide that saw Republicans take a 54-seat lead over Democrats?

Take a look at that 11th District map and you'll have an idea. Even in a precision-Democratic district carved out with a scalpel, the vote ended up being competitive. If the historically corrupt gerrymander of 2001 had been done with any goal other than incumbency protection, the vote might have gone another way.

Most California districts -- Republican and Democrat -- are not this close. Most are solidly Democrat, and in the 22nd District, which borders Vidak's 20th, Republican incumbent Kevin McCarthy managed to pull out a win last night by running unopposed.

But there are districts that could be competitive, and the Republicans might have had a shot at a few of them last night had they not cooperated in the 2001 redistricting -- a bipartisan effort that promised permanent third-of-a-loaf incumbency protection for the GOP. It hasn't worked. The Republicans' share of California political power has been steadily whittled down since then, proving that the safe bet is often not only a bad bet but not even safe. And with the loss of the two-thirds requirement for state budgets, the Republicans have lost what little leverage they once had. If the California Republican Party isn't quite dead, it deserves to be. Why would California conservatives (they exist!) vote for a party that conspires in its own obsolescence?

Think about that as you read Jon "FlashReport" Fleischman's "Random Thoughts After Being Run Over By a Truck." Flash surveys the damage and discusses the GOP's next move:

• Here in California, the GOP:  Lost the Governorship (if you feel we had it), lost every statewide election (except maybe one), may have picked up two (or maybe zero, they're that close) House seats, appear to have stayed even in the State Senate, lost a seat in the Assembly.

[…]

• Discussions amongst California Republican leaders after this drubbing will undoubtedly center around the best strategy to try and whittle away at the registration gap.  Yesterday saw GOP candidates who campaigned as conservatives, like Fiorina lose – and saw GOP candidates who campaigned as moderates, like Whitman, also lose (albeit by more).  The lesson – it's hard to win when the other team has so many more players on the field.

It's true the registered-voter gap is humongous. But the districting issue is one the Republicans screwed up themselves. And now they've been saved from their own screwup by the voters of California -- who approved Proposition 20 and rejected 27, clearing the path for a more competitive redistricting next year.

Gerrymandering producer Bill Mundell talks to Reason TV: