Political observers know that California has been a reliable national stronghold for the Democratic Party for over a decade. The party boasts two U.S. senators, over 70 percent of the state’s congressional delegation, the governor’s office, a super majority in the Assembly, and — until recently — the State Senate.
In spite of this momentum, Democratic voter registration has dropped from 44.6 percent in 2010 to 43.6 percent in 2013. Similarly, registration with the state GOP shrunk by more than 2 percent in the same time frame — now at 28.7 percent. Meanwhile, the number of voters identifying as No Party Preference has grown steadily since 1997, up almost 10 percentage points to 20.9 percent.
The panel was held Friday in the Westin Bonaventure’s San Gabriel Room and hosted by Alma Hernandez, political director for the Service Employees International Union.
She was joined by Charu Khopkar, director of the Assembly Democratic Caucus, Bryan Blum, the political director for the California Labor Federation, Julie Sweet, western regional political director for the congressional Democrats, and Lisa Gasperoni, political director for the Senate Democrats.
Khopkar attributed the Democrats’ success to more emphasis on grassroots efforts for the 2012 election cycle.
“We really saw a turnaround in how we started running and willing elections,” he said, “because of the emphasis on grassroots organizing, the emphasis on getting volunteers not just dragging legislative staffers, kicking and screaming, out of their offices to walk precincts.”
When asked how Democrats were working to address non-affiliated voters who have been turned off by the highly partisan political atmosphere in Washington, D.C., Sweet responded:
“… Congress is not a friendly place these days. Most members of Congress that you talk to are just as frustrated by the gridlock and dysfunction and the fact that the government got shutdown. [Republicans] had voted for the 50th time to repeal the Affordable Care Act… The difficulty is that [independents] have to re-engage themselves in the process as much as members of Congress have to engage them. Part of it is that all of you guys in this room, having one-on-one conversations with people about what is actually at stake.”
The 2014 midterm elections will be California’s second election cycle under the new nonpartisan Top-Two Primary System where all voters, regardless of party affiliation, can vote for any candidate of his or her choosing on a single ballot. Whether or not Democrats will see success again in 2014 remains to be seen.
Photo credit: Alex Gauthier