By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Last Tuesday, Hurtt lost his Orange County seat to a Democratic insurgent whose support was centered among the newly naturalized and registered Latino Dem ocrats who were also contributing to Loretta Sanchez's 17 percent victory over Robert Dornan in the congressional district that overlapped Hurtt's. Dan Lungren won a mere 52 percent of the Orange County vote - way beneath the 65 percent Republicans are accustomed to accumulating. Nor was it only Orange County that was going south. Up in Fresno, Republican Assemblyman Robert Prenter - Atsinger's nephew, who used his uncle's money to oust a more moderate Republican two years ago - was himself ousted by a Latino Democrat in a district where, again, new Latino voters made the difference.
Shifts in the state's demographics were only one part of last week's Democratic landslide, of course. As the candidacies of Dan Lungren and attorney-general candidate Dave Stirling made abundantly clear, any statewide Republican who identifies himself with opposition to abortion and gun control is ceding the center of the electorate to his opponent. According to the L.A. Times exit poll, Gray Davis won 68 percent of self-described moderate voters last week, and 33 percent of Republican moderates. Nonetheless, as in D.C., the Republican right is blaming everyone but itself for the GOP's debacle. According to David Spady, head of the California Christian Coalition, the Republicans' woes may be laid to Matt Fong's moderation and the fact that Lungren's conservative message was "poorly delivered."
And yet, even if California Republicans manage to disenthrall themselves from the right-wing verities that are dragging them down, even if they manage to win back some of those moderates in elections to come, that will only begin to address their problems. The deeper GOP dilemma is that the state is racially recomposing itself while they remain the white folks' party - and even their hold on whites is growing increasingly tenuous.
Democrats were expecting to win the lion's share of the moderate vote last week; the private tracking polls of their statewide candidates had them leading in this key swing constituency. But all their polls underestimated their actual Election Day tallies by about 5 percent. That difference is entirely due to nonwhite turnout, which exceeded the Democrats' wildest expectations.
For, if we are to believe the Times exit poll, the nonwhite share of the California electorate, which constituted 17 percent of all state voters in 1994, increased to 34 percent of all state voters last week. That bears rephrasing: It doubled.
Which is to say, Gray Davis owes thank-you notes to Newt Gingrich and Ken Starr for so infuriating black voters that their share of the electorate rose from 5 percent to 13 percent, with 76 percent of their vote going to Davis. He owes a thank-you note to Pete Wilson, who helped boost Latino turnout from 8 percent to 13 percent, with 71 percent of their vote going to Davis. He owes a note to Matt Fong, who helped increase the Asian share of the vote from 4 percent to 8 percent, with 65 percent of that 8 percent going to Davis. Indeed, add up all of Davis' support among nonwhite voters, and he comes away with 24.5 percent of the total vote just from the 34 percent of the electorate that was nonwhite. That means he needed only one-third of all white votes to get to 50 percent. Instead, he received 51 percent of all white votes - enough to get him to 58 percent.
Exit polls are at their shakiest, it should be noted, when they assess the share of the electorate that particular groups constitute. The other California exit poll, from the Voter News Survey, pegged the level of nonwhite participation last week somewhat lower than the Timesdid, although the polls agree on the uptick in Latino voting. My own hunch is that the Timespoll is closer to the truth. For one thing, a growing number of previously Republican districts across the state have been going Demo cratic over the past couple of years, as one working-class suburb after another has become Latino. This was apparent last Tuesday not just in Fresno and northern Orange County, but also in the Pomona-Ontario area (a Democratic Assembly pickup) and in Ventura County (a near Dem ocratic pickup of a hitherto solidly Republican seat). The old rule of politics was that the cities were largely nonwhite and Democratic, and the suburbs largely white and Republican. Now, the Latinos have reached the suburbs, and the whites . . .
Well, the whites have gone to Colorado. There's more than coincidence in the fact that as California has become more Democratic in the past couple of years, the Rockies have become more Republican. According to University of Michigan demographer Bill Frey, more than 1.6 million Californians have moved to other states during the past decade - disproportionately middle- and working-class whites uprooted by the huge downsizing of the state's aerospace industry. At the same time, over 2.6 million immigrants have come to California, chiefly Latino, secondarily Asian.
And the GOP's Latino problem, as I've noted before, goes well beyond Latinos' anger at Pete Wilson and his party for supporting Propositions 187, 209 and 227. Latinos also expect government to create greater economic opportunity by raising the minimum wage and boosting the funding for public education - expectations that are light-years distant from California Republicans' views on the proper role of the state. In California, as in Congress, even if the Republicans reposition themselves on issues of cultural politics, their core economic beliefs are at odds with the hopes that increasing numbers of voters have for government.