California voters rejected the recall of Governor Gavin Newson by 64% to 36% this week. Republicans cried election fraud before the polls even closed. But they were correct about one thing. California elections are rigged against Republican candidates. Not because of Democratic shenanigans. California Republicans made themselves irrelevant for three reasons: geography, voter registration, and ideology.
California politics is defined by the geography of the state.
- Most residents live in one of three metropolitan areas: Los Angeles, San Francisco Bay Area, and Sacramento. The Democratic strongholds.
- Fewer residents live in one of three rural areas: the Central Valley, the redwoods to the North, and the desert to the South. The Republican hinterland.
A 2016 ballot proposal would have split California into six states. Republicans would have gain a U.S. Senate majority with the extra senators from the new mini states. The proposal failed to get enough valid signatures to qualify. That the petition gathers lied to get their $1 per signature pay didn’t help.
Republicans don’t have enough voters to win state-wide offices by themselves.
Democrats have a two-to-one registration advantage over Republicans.
A successful recall would require a low Democratic turnout and a high Republican turnout. A typical scenario for a special election in an off year like 2021. Early polling gave the recall a narrow chance at succeeding.
When the race was about Governor Newsom, Democrats stayed on the sidelines for months.
That changed when talk radio host Larry Elder became the Republican front runner. With no political experience and almost 30 years of extreme views, Elder was the Trump candidate. No one wanted California to become a failed state like Texas or Florida. Late polling showed the recall failing by double digits.
Voter turnout was that of a high-profile midterm election and not a special election.
When Arnold Schwarzenegger won the 2003 recall election, he had two qualities that other candidates lacked. He was a celebrity and a moderate conservative. A winning combination that made him California governor for eight years.
A candidate with one or both qualities could have won the 2021 recall.
Caitlyn Jenner was an early celebrity favorite. Until she complained about her rich friend packing up his air hanger and moving his private jet out of state. Not a problem that most Californians can relate to. Taking a week off from campaigning to record a reality TV show in Australia didn’t help. She got 0.6% of the vote.
Elder did better than expected with 46% of the vote. He campaigned as if California still had a large pool of white conservative voters. Unwilling to moderate his positions to appeal to more voters beyond the Trump base
A painful reminder that California Republicans are out of touch with 10% of the United States population.