What is a "Safe Seat"? And Can the Republicans Save Themselves?

In an era of nonpartisan districting, what is a safe seat?

by Brian Leubitz

Much will be written about what brought Steve Fox to the Assembly. The unlikely Assemblyman from the normally solid Republican foothills of LA County was shall we say, not expected to win. The area's voting history made most observers inclined to believe that it would be a relatively easy Republican victory for Ron Smith, the Republican in the top-2. And that was shown in stark relief by Fox's website and the seeming lack of interest in the race by the usual Sacramento suspects.

Tony Quinn, an editor of the California Target Book and a former redistricting lead for the Republican Assembly caucus in 1971 and 1981, has a great take on the  race, the 2012 election, and the role of the two parties in California going forward:

So what's the problem? Well, over the summer local Democrats put on a big registration drive in this middle class district, as they did across the state and using the new online registration signed up a whole lot of new voters.  And guess who they were: loads of young Latinos, citizens and native Californians, who have learned to read and write, no thanks to the Republicans, and know who their friends are and who they are not.  Because they were new voters, many were not on the precinct rolls, so they cast provisional ballots.  And that is who manipulated the election, Mr. Smith.  The new voters who voted.

It isn't a long article, and certainly worth a full read. Yet the point is there. If demographics really are destiny, where does that leave the Republican party. Perhaps this is the first in a number of calls for reform in the so-called GOP. Or perhaps it will go unheeded once again.

The Democratic Party did a good job on registration. Partially by using new tools, like the online voter registration, and partially by good ol' fashioned shoe leather. But, the Republicans have been doing much of the work of marginalization of their party all by themselves.

With the news that Jim Brulte is considering a bid to run the CA Republican Party, perhaps they can work towards a more practical future. Brulte has a history as a right-wing Republican, but that being said, he also know how to work within the system to get things done. It would take a Herculean effort, as the Republicans can simply not survive relying on the traditional voter base alone.

But, even with a somewhat pragmatic leader like Brulte, Quinn points out that the Democrats really left several seats on the table this election.

Democrats actually failed to make the gains they could have in this election; there are about half a dozen newly-elected Republicans in districts like Smith's who faced unknown and unfunded Democrats in 2012 but still had mediocre showings because of Latino turnout in their districts.  

Of course, the answer isn't as simple as Latino turnout alone. However, with additional resources and targeting, 2014 and 2016 could mean the further marginalization of a party that once ran this state.

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