Going into the Nov. 4 election, Republicans appeared to have an excellent chance of recouping several congressional seats they’d lost in 2012, and their optimism was bolstered on election night.
Republican challengers were leading Democratic incumbents in a number of congressional districts, including a couple that had not appeared on the pre-election radar, such as Democrat Jim Costa’s San Joaquin Valley district.
As late-arriving mail and provisional ballots were counted in the following weeks, however, the GOP candidates’ positions declined in the nine districts whose outcomes had been in doubt and, finally, none of them won.
They had come tantalizingly close, approaching 50 percent in most cases, but all had fallen just short. The net result, in fact, was a one-seat gain for Democrats, winning a Southern California district that they should have won in 2012 but lost due to the quirky effect of the top-two primary system.
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In the aftermath, much ink has been spilled about the outcome, especially by Republican politicians and pundits who believed they could and should have won.
“It was quite a feat,” longtime Republican analyst Tony Quinn wrote. “Congressional Republicans had a chance to win nine Democratic-held House seats in California and blew every one of them.”
“That they failed in every single congressional race is a testament to the lack of knowledge of the nuances of California on the part of the national party,” Quinn concluded, “and their failure at the basic mechanics of winning close elections. This was the year for big Republican gains in Congress, and in the end they got nothing.”
Some conservatives place the blame more specifically on Bakersfield’s Kevin McCarthy, the House majority leader who’s never been popular with the right wing of his party.
So was it monumental failure by the national Republican Party?
On paper, so it would seem. Spending a few more million dollars, it appears, would have gained several seats in California. But in the larger context, that analysis just reflects provincial disappointment.
Had Republicans actually won a few congressional seats in California this year, they would have meant almost nothing in national terms since the GOP enjoys a very large majority in the House, and seized control of the Senate.
California Republicans did as well as they did largely because of an ultra-low-turnout election, far lower than anyone expected. And that means that any Republicans winning narrow victories this year could expect to lose their seats in 2016 when voter turnout would likely be 50 percent – or more – higher.
From the standpoint of the national Republican Party, therefore, its heavy-duty campaign money was better spent elsewhere, particularly on Senate races where victories would actually mean winning control.
Call The Bee’s Dan Walters, (916) 321-1195. Back columns, sacbee.com/dan-walters. Follow him on Twitter @WaltersBee.