On Election Night, an unknown and unfunded Republican farmer from Fresno named Johnny Tacherra was leading veteran Democratic Congressman Jim Costa by 700 votes. He eventually lost, but only by 1,300 votes. To his north, unknown and unfunded Republican Tony Amador held Democratic Rep. Jerry McNerney to just 52 percent. Every expert called that race safe for McNerney; it was not. And in the counties north and west of Sacramento, another veteran, Democratic Rep. John Garamendi, held off retiring GOP Assemblyman Dan Logue with just 53 percent.
What do these three races have in common? Each was in California parched Central Valley where farm folks believe, with good reason, that urban Democrats and environmentalists are starving them for water during the drought while taking care of the cities and the fish.
That this was a massive issue should have been clear to GOP leaders, but it was not. All House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) had to do was step outside his front door and he could have seen what the drought was doing. It was a huge political issue totally missed by congressional Republicans. A little GOP money could have gone along ways in these three Central Valley districts.
Three structural reasons also contributed to the Republican losses in several of these districts.
Republicans did very well in the legislative races, making important gains. 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, 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.
- Republicans have let their registration collapse, especially in suburban districts. Had Gorell and Ose been running with the Republican numbers in these districts when the Redistricting Commission drew them, they would have won.
- Republicans have no late ballot program; Democrats are masters at awakening their voters on Monday and Tuesday and making sure they get their absentee ballots in; Republicans made little effort to encourage their less interested voters to cast their mail ballots. In the end thousands of GOP mail-in ballots were never mailed.
- Republicans spent nothing on their statewide candidates, so there was no GOP enthusiasm to get out and vote, other than what could be ginned up by local campaigns. It was not enough.