Bill Whalen

California Bleeding Red Ink … and Red Voters

Hey Zuck, can you spare a buck?

As anticipation over a Facebook IPO mounts (Mark Zuckerberg could walk away with $20 billion – or, $714 million for each of the 28 birthday candles he’ll be blowing out in May), there’s a tale of poverty not too far from Silicon Valley.

It’s called Sacramento, where California’s state government is set to run out of cash in March. According to the State Controller, the Golden State is burning through its “safety cushion” of $2.5 billion and then will dip another $730 million deeper in debt.

In all, the state has to come up with $3.3 billion to keep feeding the beast, which will require a lot of fancy footwork involving shifting funds, borrowing and delaying some payments.

Here’s a pleasant thought for Californians working on their taxes: if the Governor and Legislature can’t deal with the shortfall before April, odds are the state will be issuing IOU’s instead of refund checks.

The funny thing is, while the heart of California government bleeds red ink, the Golden State remains decidedly blue as far as the disparity between Democrats and Republicans is concerned.

Per California’s Secretary of State, who just released new voter-registration numbers, Democrats account for 43.63% of the Golden State’s electorate versus 30.36% for Republicans . . . and another 21.2% who declined to state a party preference (in case you’re a Californian in search of a flock, there are seven political parties qualified for the Golden State’s June 5thpresidential primary – one of whom, the online Americans Elect, won’t be participating).

The good news for California Republicans: the “G” in GOP still stands for “geography” – Republicans holding a majority in 30 of the nation-state’s 58 counties (down from 37 in 2003).

The bad news: the “OP” stands for “outta power” – not a single Republican statewide officeholder at present, not a winning presidential candidate since 1988, and the grim prospect of holding less than one-third of the seats in both chambers of the State Legislature after the fall election.

Here’s how the California electorate has evolved over the better part of the past two decades – notice how both Democrats and Republicans have suffered (Dems down 8.6%; Reeps down double that, or 17.4%), to the benefit of so-called “decline to states” (up 102%).

  D R DTS
Oct. 1995 47.7 36.8 10.5
Sept. 2003 43.6 35.3 16.1
Jan. 2012 43.6 30.4 21.1

So let’s have a little fun putting California into the scheme of national politics.

First, there’s the immensity of the nation-state – size alone discouraging Republicans from wanting to compete here in November.

A shade over 17 million Californians are registered to take part in the June primary (that’s 72% of all registered voters, a 4% improvement from June 2008). That translates to about 2.25 million more Democrats than Republicans in the Golden State. With 3.6 million Californians falling into the non-affiliated category, Republicans have to pick up two-thirds of the independent vote merely to break even in a statewide vote (this is assuming Republicans and Democrats turn out at the same rate).

That’s problematic, to say the least – especially with national Republicans running to right on a host of issues (abortion, environment) where centrist Californians might disagree.

Meanwhile, there’s a chance California might be one of the 10 most Democratic states in America – by partisan identification, that is.

During the first half of 2011, Gallup Daily tracked party affiliation in all 50 states. California came out at 47% “Democratic/leaning Democratic”, 34% “Republican/lean Republican” – a 13% advantage (roughly the same as the Secretary of State’s count) and a point below #10 Illinois.

The top eight Democrat states:

  1. Hawaii +24
  2. Maryland +22
  3. Connecticut +20
  4. Massachusetts +20
  5. New York +20
  6. Vermont +16
  7. Illinois +15
  8. Rhode Island +14

The top ten Republican states:

  1. Utah +32
  2. Idaho +29
  3. Wyoming +27
  4. Alaska +19
  5. North Dakota +18
  6. Kansas +16
  7. Nebraska +14
  8. Alabama +13
  9. Montana +11
  10. South Carolina +9

btw, 16 states favor one party over the other by only 5% or less.

On the pro-Democratic side, nine states: Nevada (+5), Wisconsin (+5), Iowa (+4), New Mexico (+4), North Carolina (+4), Oregon (+4), Florida (+3), Ohio (+3), and Georgia (+2).

On the pro-Republican side, five states: Indiana (+3), Arkansas (+2), Arizona (+2), Missouri (+2), and Colorado (+1).

Two states split even: Virginia and Mississippi.

Some of those states won’t be in play come November, despite what these numbers say. I don’t know a Democratic strategist who honestly entertains the thought of President Obama carrying Arkansas Mississippi and Missouri – all states a stronger Obama dropped in 2008. Likewise, Indiana probably reverts to its old self and goes red this year.

Still, it gives you an idea of why the “swing states” are considered to be in both parties’ reach.

And why California, now out of money, is also out of bounds in the same national vote.

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