When George W. Bush comes to California next week looking for
support, he'll find a Republican Party looking for a savior.
The once-proud party that produced Ronald Reagan is on the ropes
and could get knocked into long-term second-place status in the next
election if it doesn't find a strong candidate to rally behind, say
broad range of political analysts here.
That, of course, would have huge implications nationally, given
California casts more electoral votes in the selection of the
president than any other state. But in this state more than most,
politics is about people more than party loyalty, and one strong
candidacy can change everything.
That's one reason many party faithful are practically salivating
over Texas Governor Bush, who leads among Republicans and voters as
whole in state polls. Perceived as moderate, Latino-friendly, and
charismatic, Bush is the rising star many hope will pull in voters
who have been drifting away and help pull the party out of its
But whether the nominee turns out to be Bush, Elizabeth Dole, or
one of the other nine Republican hopefuls, many observers here agree
this is a crucial moment in the state party's history.
"We're at a very delicate position that will determine how we do
as a party in the long term," says Sacramento GOP campaign
Ray McNally. "If we're not careful, we could guarantee minority
status for ourselves for years to come."
Based on data gathered over several recent election cycles, Field
Poll analyst Mark DiCamillo says flatly, "Republicans need to
reassert themselves now if they want to avoid ceding the state to
Like a Los Angeles sunset, Republicans have had some spectacular
successes in recent years that may have masked a darkening sky.
Triumphs with anti-affirmative action and anti-illegal immigration
ballot initiatives were also alienating for many moderate, and
particularly Latino, voters.
After some period of ambivalence, Republicans "now understand how
deeply they've been hurt," says political scientist Sherry Bebitch
Jeffe of Claremont Graduate University.
It's none too soon given the trend lines for Republicans, say a
number of analysts. They took a shellacking of historic proportions
last November. Despite holding the governor's office for the past 16
years, the GOP was enthusiastically swept aside by voters to make
for Democrat Gray Davis. He won by 20 percentage points and was
gaining strength right up to election day.
That thumping would be less worrisome to Republicans if it were
only a sign of an inept campaign and the wrong candidate. But beyond
that outcome were several indicators that the state's voters are
increasingly drifting away from the Republican ranks.
The most dynamic component of the California population, and
electorate, is Latinos. Historically, they've tilted Democratic, but
Republicans have been able to get a respectable 30 percent or so of
their votes. Last November, though, the Republican gubernatorial
candidate got only 17 percent.
In the view of many analysts, bridges to the state's fast-growing
Latino population were burned by Gov. …