Over the last two decades, California has become a Democratic fortress, beyond the GOP's reach in presidential campaigns and all but hopeless in statewide contests. Republicans are largely irrelevant in Sacramento, where the most important fights are between liberal and more moderate Democrats.
At the local level, however, the picture is quite different. Despite the Democrats' sizable statewide registration advantage, Republicans hold close to half the 2,500 mayoral and city council seats in California, according to figures compiled by GrassrootsLab, a Sacramento research and political data firm.
In the last two statewide election cycles, when Californians voted true to partisan form — bucking the national GOP wave in 2010, siding strongly with Obama in 2012 — Republicans won more local contests than did Democrats, and not just in rural or such traditionally conservative-leaning areas as the Central Valley. More than 75 cities in California have a majority of Democratic voters but Republican-run city councils; the GOP has toeholds in such otherwise blue bastions as Alameda, Los Angeles and Santa Cruz counties.
For a party desperate to rebuild, that's the good news. "It's important because most members of the Legislature come out of local government," said state Republican Party Chairman Jim Brulte. "Most members of Congress come out of the Legislature."
Still, most municipal elections in California are nonpartisan affairs and there is good reason to question whether Republicans successful locally can advance once party label becomes more important and issues such as municipal finances and public safety, which typically help Republicans, recede.Running on a nonpartisan basis, Steve Cooley won three terms as district attorney of Los Angeles County. But when he was the Republican nominee for attorney general in 2010, he lost the county to Democrat Kamala Harris, 53-39%