Spoiler alert: Nope. California Republicans insist that they have a chance to replace outgoing governor Jerry Brown with one of their own in a state that hasn’t elected a GOP candidate to statewide office since Arnold Schwarzenegger and Steve Poizner in 2006*. Politico reports that the backlash to sanctuary policies in the Golden State might open up some opportunities for the state GOP, but it might be an upset if their candidate even makes the November ballot:
California Republicans have been called an endangered species in this “state of resistance” to the Trump administration, but they insist that their party will beat the odds in 2018 and take back the governor’s seat.
The conservative movement against California’s controversial “sanctuary state” law, a ballot measure to repeal Gov. Jerry Brown’s gas tax, and deepening concerns about rising housing costs and homelessness are fueling Republican hopes for a long-shot upset.
All true, and all beginning to seep into the state’s consciousness. Sanctuary policy protests in particular have raised hopes of improving the state Republican Party’s fortunes and footprint, which largely excludes most of the state’s two biggest urban areas — the Bay Area in the north and the Los Angeles megalopolis in the south. Even Orange County’s historically conservative traditions have receded in recent years.
Both of the top Republican prospects are taking a broad approach to challenging Democratic supremacy, arguing that decades of progressive-left dominance has turned their state into a shambles:
“People look around and they ask why we have the highest level of poverty in the United States?’’ said Assemblyman Travis Allen, a conservative populist from Huntington Beach who has focused his run for governor on the issue of illegal immigration. “Why do we have this exploding homeless population? And what have the California Democrats done to fix it?’’
Wealthy GOP businessman John Cox of Rancho Santa Fe — who now polls in second place behind Democrat Gavin Newsom in the governor’s race in California, where the primary doesn’t take party into account — helped finance an effort to put before voters a ballot measure to repeal the state’s new gas tax, which is overwhelmingly unpopular among Republicans. …
“This state is the most unaffordable state in the country, the highest taxes, the most people in poverty. It’s got the worst education system. We were just voted the worst business climate in the country. Regulations are a joke. Small business formation is at an all time low. Businesses are moving out left and right.”
It’s tough to argue with that, but all of that has been true for a very long time. Republicans have not translated those failures into electoral change, not even in elections where Republicans seemed ascendant elsewhere, such as in 2014’s midterm elections. Jerry Brown won re-election by nearly 20 points over Neel Kashkari in that cycle, 59.4% to 40.6%. Kashkari also had considerable experience in business, which didn’t do much for his prospects against the then-three-term governor and lifelong public-sector figure.
The problem for Cox and Allen is that California now uses an open primary system, meaning that everyone runs in the same pool and only the top two vote-getters advance to the general election. In theory, that should reward candidates who appeal more to the consensus than to the activists. In practice, it means that Republicans have a tough time getting into the finals. In 2016, California’s Senate race pitted left-leaning Democrat Loretta Sanchez against even-more-left-leaning Democrat Kamala Harris. Harris won 62/38, which should give everyone an idea about how prospects look for Republicans in statewide elections.
But doesn’t Politico describe Cox as running second in polling now? Yes, but … only in one poll. RCP’s polling aggregation shows Democrats Gavin Newsome and Antonio Villaraigosa consistently occupying the top two slots, with Newsome also consistently polling better than Villaraigosa. Combining support for Cox and Allen might make the difference between the silver and bronze medals in California’s gubernatorial Olympics pretrial, which could only occur if the party unified behind one of them.
The California Republican Party did not agree on an endorsement Sunday in the governor’s race, a development that could stifle the chances that GOP voters will coalesce behind a candidate before the June 5 primary election.
Businessman John Cox received 55.3% of the vote, short of the 60% required for the party nod. Assemblyman Travis Allen received 40.5%, while 4.1% voted for no endorsement at the party’s convention in San Diego.
The lack of a party endorsement in the gubernatorial contest could have significant political ramifications. Cox and Allen are not well known to California voters, and backing from the party stood to provide a powerful signal to undecided voters. If voters split between the two men, the state GOP risks a repeat of the 2016 U.S. Senate contest, when no Republican advanced to the general election, leaving voters with a choice between two Democrats on the November ballot.
In other words, it’s not likely that a Republican will win the California governor’s chair in 2018. At the moment, prospects for even being on that ballot look to land somewhere between slim and none. And that means that the open primary system is working perfectly … for Democrats.
* – Same year that Minnesota Republicans last won a statewide race, in case we in the upper Midwest get a little too snooty about these things.