As Texans, we are told that California is the opposite of our home. They have consistent temperate weather that is pleasant, whereas our weather is bipolar and constantly trying to kill us; their economy is built on tech and entertainment, and our economy is built on oil and livestock; they are a Democrat stronghold, and we are a Republican stronghold. That last comment will turn some heads, with Democrat Beto O’Rourke coming within three points of unseating Republican Senator Ted Cruz, and many pundits claiming Texas was in play in 2020. If the once ruby red Texas can come so close to flipping, could sapphire blue California flip, or come close? Surprisingly, the answer is yes.
California, believe it or not, was once a Republican stronghold (coincidentally when Texas was a Democrat stronghold). California was in fact the state that gave us President Ronald Reagan, a conservative icon. So, what happened? Prop 187 happened.
1994’s Prop 187 was a ballot initiative that stripped any individual suspected of being here illegally of health care, education and other services. The rhetoric the California GOP used was seen as extremely anti-latino and while the proposition passed, the Supreme Court struck it down. This campaign left a lasting impression on California latinos who started to vote blue and California has not been red ever since (with one exception that will be delved into later).
With this in mind, we see that, like all politics, California is ultimately personal and not ideological. Nationwide, and in the state of California specifically, Republican candidates are becoming more and more diverse — breaking the stereotypical Republican mold of old white men. This diversity is also reflected in the Republican voting pool with President Trump making gains amongst minority voters in 2020 as compared to 2016, and the city of McAllen, Texas, a relatively large city that’s 85% Hispanic, recently voting for a Republican Mayor.
In California itself, the Democrats have complete control over the state government, and the people are very dissatisfied. In 2020, Republicans flipped three congressional seats, including the first since 1994 to defeat a Democrat incumbent. Furthermore, the Republican backed Prop 22, which exempted rideshare and food delivery services from providing employee benefits, passed by 17 points, despite fierce opposition by California Democrats and unions. The dissatisfaction is so fierce that Democrat Governor Gavin Newsom faces a recall election in November. The last time a recall occurred in 2003, a Republican, Arnold Schwarzenegger won the governorship, and the ‘Governator’ himself warns that the state’s political climate is very similar to the one that propelled him to the governorship in 2003.
The combined shifts in demographic trends in voting, and massive dissatisfaction with the Democrat power base, create hope for California Republicans. The chances are slim, and the cards have to be played just right, but California Republicans have a chance to retake their home and make their state golden once again.