California Governor Gavin Newsom emerged as the big winner from a recall election held on September 14, 2021, winning an overwhelming majority. But while most eyes were on the outcome, another important change was emerging: California’s growing role in national democratic politics.
President Joe Biden, campaigning for Newsom the day before the vote ended, pointed to the change, telling a friendly crowd: “It’s not an exaggeration: The nation’s eyes are on California … on California. It will have a huge impact. It is going to resonate across the country. And to be honest, it is no joke around the world.”
I’m not sure how big the global impact would be. But as a longtime student of California politics, I am struck by the state’s growing importance in national democratic politics. This is a big change.
For many years, California was of secondary importance in the eyes of the party, behind the narrowly divided “swing states” in the Midwest whose voting tendencies were cut and divided by campaign strategists. But now, California is being seen as a political barometer for the party itself, not just as an ATM seeking national candidates to raise money to campaign for.
Once, but no longer the seed for Republicans
This change means that Democrats are searching for something that worked for Republicans from the 1960s to the 2000s: they can make California a place where political movements and ideas begin and, if successful. If so, then spread throughout the country.
It may be hard to believe, given the poor electoral fortunes of California Republicans today, the state, and especially the Greater Los Angeles area, was fundamental to consolidating the GOP to national power.
Ballot initiatives like Prop 14 in 1964, which overturned a fair housing law, Prop 13 of 1978, which set off a national tax revolt, and Prop 187, which replaced the GOP in 1994 as anti-immigrant, white became a symbol of reaction. Deeply influenced modern Republican politics. The main support for these measures came from Southern California Republicans.
The area was a seed for Republican governors, senators, and even presidents. Richard Nixon, a House member and then-senator, and Ronald Reagan, a two-term governor, won four presidential terms between them. and Pete Wilson, previously a U.S. senator, and George Duchamajian each held similar positions as governors.
a way for Biden
Demographic changes in California, including increased percentages of Latino and Asian American voters and their mobilization against Republican policies, led to a sharp drop in Republican fortunes in the state and a major upgrade in Democratic prospects.
By the time Arnold Schwarzenegger ousted Gray Davis in 2003 and was re-elected in 2006, the movie star politician was an anomaly—the last of the Republican breed. No other Republican has won office statewide since then.
With a growing majority in the electorate and legislature and monopolies of elected offices statewide, California’s Democratic leaders can outdo the national party on issues ranging from immigration to climate change to health care.
California became a powerful ally of the Obama administration, leading the way on the environment, and demonstrating how the Affordable Care Act can be successfully implemented. During the Trump years, the state often led resistance on issues such as immigration and climate change – prompting Donald Trump to declare in 2020 that California was “going to hell.”
In the Biden presidency, Newsom led the way with aggressive moves against COVID-19 that cost him politically in the short term, but are paying off with public approval and better, if temporary, results now A path that cautious Biden is now following in his instructions on vaccination.
Sokal, so important
Even more remarkable is the rise of Southern California as a state and national player. The presence of the California Democrats in national politics has, to this day, been through the influence of the highly organized and liberal Northern Californians.
North once again showed up at the recall, leading to a wide margin and high turnout for Newsom. But the big change lies in Southern California, which is developing a profile as a Democratic powerhouse. It wasn’t just Los Angeles County that turned down the recall; It also failed in the newly Democratic-leaning counties of Orange and San Diego, east and south of the LA metropolis.
The politics of the region has drawn interest from the National Democrats in a way that was rarely shown in the past. In the Los Angeles City Council election last year, two candidates—one from the Democratic Party’s left and the other from the center-left—opposed the support of Sen. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. It was as if these big-time Democrats were re-playing their 2016 presidential primary battle in LA Council District #4.
Local politicians are clearly attracting the attention of national leaders who see the importance of entering local and state politics. Far from seeing Los Angeles as some sort of political backwater, national political figures are looking to take their talents where the action is.
More recently, the 2022 Los Angeles mayoral race has been hit by signs that a national political figure, Democratic US Rep. Karen Bass is likely to enter a competitive campaign.
Mayor Eric Garcetti, a Democrat nominated by Biden to become ambassador to India, will be the first LA mayor to step onto the national scene, ending a long run of LA mayors who found his office a political dead end. Garcetti’s appointment, should it win confirmation in the Senate, is another nod to the region’s political importance, appointing Newsom’s Alex Padilla—a former LA City Council member and state senator—to fill the Senate seat of Kamala Harris. similar to.
swinging away from the swing voters
The lessons of the California recall election could be important as the party attempts to devise a strategy to make the 2022 midterm elections extremely challenging.
As more Democrats began to see the limits of a strategy based on trying to win over swing voters—and, conversely, the value of mobilizing already party voters even in closely divided states—California’s growing Democratic The majority became more relevant to him. By helping Newsom to his big win, Biden and other national Democrats got as much as they gave, giving a direct look at what a Democratic mobilization strategy can achieve in even a short campaign.
While few competing states have such a large democratic majority, the close race can still be decided by mobilization, as much as by persuasion, and by shedding a bright light on the harsh elections between the parties as they are formed today.
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