Are California Republicans In The Third Party Wilderness?

Glendale, UNITED STATES: Students from Colombus Elementary School listen as California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger addresses the media after touring their school in Glendale, CA, 23 October 2006. Schwarzenegger expressed his support for Proposition 1D: Kindergarten - University Public Education Facilities Bond Act of 2006 which will be on the ballot in the 07 November election. The bodybuilder-turned-action-hero has won backing from a battalion of Hollywood big guns so far, with industry heavyweights like Steven Spielberg lining up behind his bid for a second term.

Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

California Republicans have had a tough time winning statewide elections since they alienated Hispanic voters in the mid 1990s with Proposition 187, which banned illegal immigrants from using public services and inspired some nasty race-baiting on the campaign trail.

Arnold Schwarzenegger was able to capture the governor’s mansion for the GOP in 2003 because of a divided field in a unique recall contest – not necessarily because voters backed Republican policies. But have things become so bad that it’s better to run as an outsider than in the traditional two party system in the Golden State? That’s the crux of this piece in today’s Los Angeles Times:


So Bruce McPherson, 68 — former California secretary of state and centrist legislator and current candidate for the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors — has re-registered as an independent, or “no party preference.”

In doing that, McPherson is fitting into the pattern of millions of Californians who have snubbed the parties and become nonpartisans.

More than one-fifth of registered voters, 21.3%, are listed with no party preference, according to the Secretary of State. That’s double the 10.7% in 1996 and more than quadruple the 5% in 1972.

In the last 16 years, the GOP’s slice of the electorate has fallen from 37% to 30.2%. The Democrats’ share also has declined, but less precipitously — from 47.1% to 43.4%.

“I walk precincts door to door and people tell me they’re looking for an independent voice,” McPherson says. “They see partisan politics as paralyzing the governing process. They see no movement or communication. They’re frustrated and fed up.

“But I’m not going to do Republican bashing because the left wing of the Democratic Party is guilty of the same thing. It’s ‘my way or the byway.’ Republicans want to shut down things and Democrats want to pay for everything.

“There’s no middle.”


It will be interesting to watch whether a splintered California GOP produces some interesting moderates and, alternatively, fringe conservative players who have bases of power in places like Orange County and the interior of the state but little appeal elsewhere. But the most recent round of redistricting after the 2010 census may help to make the state GOP more competitive by placing its candidates in more evenly divided districts.

“We now have some competitive congressional races,” said Rob Stutzman, a Republican strategist and former top communications adviser to Schwarzenegger. “I think that’s going to show Republicans how to win in swing districts out here, and it’s going to moderate them on immigration and other issues. Statewide is a different matter.”


He wasn’t shocked at the idea of a Republican wanting to run as an independent in a place like Santa Cruz – but said that fundamentally, California is still a two-party show.

“The question is whether they can make the ballot in november,” he said of GOP candidates. And the best way to do that remains running in a Republican primary and making traditional appeals to conservative primary voters.

Not that the state party doesn’t have some image work to do.

“The party itself needs to learn how to win elections in the future and not try to litigate the past,” he said.