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California Stays Blue Amid GOP's Rise


Several top committees in the new Congress will be chaired by Republicans from California. But while their fortunes are rising in Washington, GOP lawmakers are becoming something of an endangered species in their home state.

In November, Democrats held onto their U.S. Senate seats, their congressional seats, and even increased their majority in the state assembly.

Now, some Republicans are contemplating their future in the golden state. NPR's Ina Jaffe has the story.

INA JAFFE: So how is it even possible that Republican Meg Whitman could spend around $170 million running for California governor and lose to Democrat Jerry Brown by a whopping 13 points?

Her campaign advisor, Mike Murphy, said on "Meet The Press" he took full responsibility for the loss, and then blamed it on California.

(Soundbite of interview with Mike Murphy)

Mr. MIKE MURPHY (Campaign Advisor for Meg Whitman): It's a very blue state and it's getting bluer. As the red, you know, wave kind of went one way, there was a bit of a blue riptide coming the other way.

JAFFE: In fact, nearly every California Republican running for a major office lost by double digits.

Mr. TONY QUINN (Political Analyst): What is very clear now is that really no one running as your ordinary, run-of-the-mill Republican could win statewide office.

JAFFE: That's non-partisan political analyst Tony Quinn. GOP registration is barely over 30 percent, and then there's what Quinn calls the Republicans' demographic problem.

Mr. QUINN: They have no growth at all among the people who are growing in this state.

JAFFE: Like the fastest growing group of all, Latinos.

(Soundbite of commercial in Spanish)

JAFFE: On Tuesday, we will vote, says this California campaign commercial. Tuesday yes, Arizona no. It's a reference to the controversial Arizona law allowing the police to check the immigration status of someone they suspect is in the country illegally.

Research shows that's what California Latinos are most worried about, says Maria Elena Durazo, the head of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, which sponsored the ad campaign.

Ms MARIA ELENA DURAZO (Los Angeles County Federation of Labor): More people knew specifically SB1070, the name of the Arizona law, than could name the candidates for governor.

JAFFE: So the campaign used the fear that a law like Arizona's might be passed in California to motivate Latinos to support the Democratic ticket.

Ms. DURAZO: It wasn't going to be purely anti-Meg Whitman that got people to the polls. It wasn't going to be just a pro-Jerry Brown. There had to something much, much deeper.

JAFFE: And in November, Latinos accounted for 22 percent of the vote, a stronger turnout than in the presidential election two years ago.

Mr. KEVIN SPILLANE (Republican Political Consultant): I think that what you're going to see is the Latino vote continue to grow in every election.

JAFFE: Says Republican political consultant Kevin Spillane. His candidate, Steve Cooley, was a standout among Republicans, losing the attorney general's race to Kamala Harris by less than one point. Spillane believes that Republicans share common ground with Latino voters on many issues.

Mr. SPILLANE: But the problem for us is we can't get beyond that immigration issue, so the points of commonality are not coming out.

JAFFE: Spillane believes that if Republicans want to start winning again, they may have to soften their hard-line stance on immigration. But conservatives here think their platform is fine the way it is.

Activist Mike Spence says they just need to do a better job of communicating.

Mr. MIKE SPENCE (Activist): If you actually have a position that's strong, and you're able to articulate it and defend it, even if people disagree with it, they at least respect your ability to lead and to stand for something.

JAFFE: And that he says can lead to victories.

Mr. SPENCE: That's how Ronald Reagan, who wasn't supposed to be president of the United States, won.

JAFFE: But that was three decades ago, and California is living up to its reputation as the state that doesn't look back.

Ina Jaffe, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ina Jaffe is a veteran NPR correspondent covering the aging of America. Her stories on Morning Edition and All Things Considered have focused on older adults' involvement in politics and elections, dating and divorce, work and retirement, fashion and sports, as well as issues affecting long term care and end of life choices. In 2015, she was named one of the nation's top "Influencers in Aging" by PBS publication Next Avenue, which wrote "Jaffe has reinvented reporting on aging."