Bill Whalen

Which team has a worse record than the 49ers and Raiders? The California GOP

As if California didn’t already test your patience, try this for cringe-worthy viewing: the Raiders and the 49ers playing each other this week, which seemed like a good idea before the season started. Going into their Thursday night encounter in Santa Clara, the two Bay area NFL teams were a combined two wins and 13 losses.

Fitting for a game played soon before Election Day, there’s a parallel with another losing team – the California GOP, whose candidates are a combined two wins and 29 losses in state and federal statewide races since 2006, and likely to go “0-fer” on Tuesday.

The last Super Bowl victory for either Bay Area team? January 1995. California Republicans high water mark? That was 51 days earlier, when they won five of eight state constitutional offices in the 1994 midterm election.


However, there is one big difference between the players and the pols – light at the end of the tunnel.

The 49ers’ wretched season can be excused, in part, to a rash of injuries. A healthier squad could bounce back next year. The Raiders’ strategy of dumping talent and amassing draft picks sure seems like surrender in the present, but makes sense to rebuild and reemerge in Las Vegas.

bill whalen new.jpg
Bill Whalen

Unfortunately, the California GOP can’t take its game to the more conservative Nevada. So that leaves it to Republicans try to compete in the stadium of Golden State politics, but there’s no home field advantage.

Consider these data points from a poll released this week by Stanford University’s Bill Lane Center for the American West:

Only 21 percent of respondents defined themselves as “strong” or “lean” Republican, compared to 44 percent aligned with Democrats.

President Donald Trump remains toxic with a 60 percent disapproval rating; five of eight Californians prefer that he not seek re-election in 2020.

Asked for their top concern, Californians opted for health care, a subject on which Republicans are tongue-tied, which is why Democrats have tried to hammer it home in this election.

Proposition 6 – the repeal of last year’s gas tax increase and the GOP’s hope for boosting turnout in a few pivotal congressional races – trails badly (34 percent to 47 percent).

Republican gubernatorial hopeful John Cox, who has made Proposition 6 a cornerstone of his campaign, polls way behind Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who lead 53 percent to 34 percent with only 10 percent undecided.

In America, Tuesdays are for elections and Wednesdays are devoted to sifting through the wreckage. But on the eve of this year’s vote, two things are obvious for the California GOP.

First, how much longer can Republicans keep starting rookie quarterbacks? In four of the last five governor’s races, the GOP choice also made their debut as a candidate. The one exception: Arnold Schwarzenegger, an incumbent governor in 2006 but likewise a first-timer in the 2003 recall election.

These losses followed a familiar pattern. The candidates were either woefully underfunded or lacking in common-sense campaign skills. While capable of surviving lower-turnout primaries, they were overmatched and overwhelmed in larger-scale general elections.

The second GOP problem is messaging. Using the Lane Center poll as a guide, a GOP gubernatorial candidate should be running in 2018 on immigration, health care, taxes, environment and jobs. Crime finished seventh on the list of “the most important problems facing California today.”

Instead, the Republican message this year is on taxation and government incompetence in the form of a mismanaged Department of Motor Vehicles. But how many Californians visited DMV? How many more sat in a doctor’s waiting room?

The Raiders and 49ers will mercifully end their seasons in eight weeks. California Republicans are looking at a longer and more challenging offseason.

Bill Whalen is a Hoover Institution research fellow and former speechwriter for Gov. Pete Wilson. Whalen can be reached at


The Sacramento Bee editorial board tackles the day’s biggest issues seven days a week, 365 days a year to keep you informed about California policy and politics.
We're a one-stop shop for timely, relevant viewpoints from elected officials and advocates on water, healthcare and housing and more.
Want to stay in the conversation? Support this forum for voices from across the state with a digital subscription to The Sacramento Bee.