A state struggling with high unemployment; a depressed housing market that shows no signs of turning around any time soon; widespread voter discontent with the president and California’s U.S. senators—all of them Democrats.
That’s enough for the state’s Republican Party to declare, as it opens its fall convention in Los Angeles today, that “it’s a new day in California politics.”
But the thousand or so party members are meeting as the party faces a host of serious long-term challenges: declining Republican voter registration; a troubled relationship with the state’s rapidly growing Latino population; and newly drawn legislative districts that could cost the minority party some of the seats it holds in Sacramento and Washington.
“The thing about the Republicans is that they have nowhere to go but up,” Jack Pitney, Crocker Professor of Politics at Claremont McKenna College, said in an interview Friday with KQED News host Cy Musiker.
“They’re pretty much at rock bottom when it comes to seats in the Legislature, registration in the electorate, and certainly they don’t hold a single statewide office.”
The party’s opportunities and troubles are highlighted by a new Field Poll (PDF) that shows Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein with a 41 percent approval rating—the lowest in her nearly two decades in Washington. The poll found that just 41 percent of voters are inclined to vote for Feinstein when she runs next year while 44 percent are not.
The numbers suggest Feinstein is vulnerable to a strong Republican challenge. But Pitney said fundraising issues and the lack of Republican officeholders with solid statewide name recognition are major obstacles to unseating the Democratic senator.
“A Republican is going to have a good deal of difficulty raising money because a lot of the Republican money nationwide is going to go to states that are smaller, less expensive, and are more likely pickups for the GOP,” Pitney said.
“Inevitably, the Democrats are going to mess up in some way. Parties in power always do. That would provide the Republicans with an opportunity, but the thing is they need somebody to take advantage of it. You can’t beat somebody with nobody.”
The weekend GOP meeting will feature some star power—from some out-of-state members of Congress seeking the Republican presidential nomination. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota will address the convention Friday night. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas and Rep. Thaddeus McCotter of Michigan will appear Saturday.
KQED Sacramento Bureau Chief John Myers will be covering the convention. Listen to his preview of the convention with The California Report’s Rachael Myrow. He’ll file reports for The California Report and KQED News on Monday.
Listen to the rest of our interview with Professor Pitney here: California GOP: Eying Opportunities, Facing Big Challenges; the audio will be available after 5:30 p.m.