Dan Morain

GOP pines for Condi Rice, as it gains below the statewide radar

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice smiles after making a putt at Pebble Beach Golf Links in 2013.
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice smiles after making a putt at Pebble Beach Golf Links in 2013. Associated Press file

Diehard California Republicans converging on the downtown Hyatt for their twice-a-year convention know the score:

Perennial minority status in the Legislature. Their most senior elected constitutional officer, George Runner, sits on the Board of Equalization. Nice guy, but what exactly does the board equalize?

They pine for Condoleezza Rice, wishing she would run for Barbara Boxer’s U.S. Senate seat in 2016. Rice golfs, muses about becoming NFL commissioner, and just says no to political campaigns.

They know that if, and it’s a big if, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, their luncheon speaker Saturday, were to become the presidential nominee, he won’t spend a nanosecond in California in the fall of 2016. It’d be a waste of time; GOP registration has sunk to 28.1 percent of the electorate.

Bleak though these days are for the party of Reagan in California, there are signs of life in unlikely places, Scotts Valley in Santa Cruz County, the L.A. suburb of Downey, and Rancho Cordova.

Registered Republicans hold 46.5 percent of the seats on California’s 480 city councils, to Democrats’ 42 percent, with no-party preference and third-party officials holding the rest, said Sacramento consultant Mike Madrid of the research and data firm, GrassrootsLab. Republicans hold more than 60 percent of the seats on county boards of supervisors.

This isn’t the dawn of a new Republican day. Democrats dominate councils in California’s biggest cities. But in small and midsize cities, Republicans are making gains.

Because local offices are nonpartisan, candidates generally don’t discuss their party affiliation with voters. Nor do they discuss abortion, gay rights, immigration and other issues that separate Republicans from the California electorate. Instead, they focus on issues of government transparency, efficiency, and public safety, about which most people agree.

“It’s like a blind taste test. If you don’t know the party labels, Republicans are doing better than Democrats,” Madrid said.

In Rancho Cordova, where President Barack Obama won 58 percent of the vote in 2012, three of five council members are Republicans.

In Scotts Valley, where Obama captured 64 percent of the vote, three council members are Republican, one doesn’t have a party preference, and a fifth switched parties two years ago, and now is a Democrat.

Obama beat Romney with 67 percent of the vote in Downey, a city where Republicans held a 3-2 majority on the council until last year when Mario Guerra, a Republican who had been Downey’s mayor, ran for a Senate seat. Although Republicans make up only a fourth of the voters in the Downey-area district, Guerra lost by fewer than 5 percentage points.

In Orange County, which remains red, Republican attorney Andrew Do defeated veteran Democratic legislator Lou Correa by 43 votes for a seat on the Board of Supervisors. The California Republican Party spent $90,000 to elect Do, who had been chief of staff to his predecessor, Janet Nguyen. Nguyen won a state Senate seat in November.

“If you want to rebuild the party from the ground up, you start at the local level,” California Republican Party Chairman Jim Brulte said.

California Republicans have many problems. But maybe, just maybe, Republicans are beginning to come back, slowly. It won’t be apparent in statewide races in 2016, and probably not in 2018. But pendulums do swing.

BY THE NUMBERS

The consulting firm GrassrootsLab finds:

▪ 24 percent of Latino council members are Republicans.

▪ 46 percent of Asian city council members are Republicans.

▪ 52 percent of Democratic city council members are women.

▪ 33 percent of Republican city council members are women.

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