There’s suddenly been a lot of discussion of the Republican-held districts in California being the next big treasure trove of Democratic pickups in the House, surprising considering that California has a very bifurcated political geography and, on top of that, one of the most aggressively pro-incumbent gerrymanders. This started with a study published by the California Target Book showing precipitously declining GOP registrations, and continued with the DCCC‘s announcement that it would go big in 2010 in the eight districts where Obama won that are still occupied by House Republicans.
For instance, CA-26 has shown a drop in the GOP’s registration edge from 2002 to 2008 from 11% to 6%, CA-45 has seen a similar drop from 11% to 4%, and perhaps most out of left field, Buck McKeon’s CA-25 has dropped from 9% to 1%. In CA-03 (where Dan Lungren barely escaped in 2008), it dropped from 11% to 2%, and in CA-44 (where Ken Calvert escaped even more narrowly), it dropped from 16% to 7%.
What’s driving these changing registrations? Is it just ticked-off moderates realizing that something’s amiss with today’s GOP and changing teams? I’m sure there’s some of that happening, but that can’t by itself explain the size of those numbers. What’s driving this seems to be the changing demographics of who’s moving into and out of these districts. With the GOP’s declining fortunes among Latino and Asian voters (fueled by the GOP’s own self-defeating hardline extremism on the immigration issue), it can’t help that those are where most of the growth is happening in most of these districts.
While the magnitude of the demographic sea change in California isn’t as great as the non-white growth in Texas (which I wrote about prior to the 2008 election), it’s still impressive to see. This chart details the changes in each group from the 2000 census to the 2007 estimate, for each House district that’s held by the Republicans. (‘White’ means non-Hispanic white.)
|CA-24||Gallegly||43||51||44,034||– 9,600||– 1,413||7,750||49,124|
|CA-26||Dreier||44||51||51,417||– 14,604||– 1,491||26,625||47,452|
|CA-42||G. Miller||37||45||47,896||– 4,641||– 1,397||15,719||46,613|
Bear in mind that not all of the Latino persons listed here are able to vote, either because they aren’t citizens or are too young, so this is more of a time-bomb in some districts, like the ones in the mostly-agricultural Central Valley. Case in point is CA-21, which (along with CA-45) is the only of these districts to have moved into an outright Latino plurality this decade, but is still one of the most Republican districts in the state.
On the other hand, some of the more suburban districts, like CA-44 and CA-45 in Riverside County, are poised to flip pretty soon (although these are two of the most hard-hit districts anywhere by the foreclosure crisis and the collapse of the construction industry, so it’ll require a lot of watching in these districts to see who stays and who goes). And even more surprisingly, CA-25 is zooming in our direction, at least demographically, making the drop to a 1% GOP registration edge maybe not that unexpected. (There’s only one district that seems to be bucking this overall trend, where most of the growth is white, and that’s CA-04… oddly enough, the district of all these where we came closest in 2008 to picking up the House seat, although the circumstances there were unusual.)
As in Texas, these changes aren’t going to happen overnight. But in the red parts of California, as with Texas, in the next decade, we’re either going to see a GOP that changes its message (and, well, everything else) to appeal to a more diverse America, or that starts hemmorhaging seats in its once-red strongholds.