Just how liberal is California?
It’s the home state of Amanda Chantal Bacon’s Moon Juice and a shit-ton of cannabis — but it’s also the headquarters of Scientology, the launchpad and burial place of Ronald Reagan, and where the landmark 1978 anti-tax measure Prop 13 still polls remarkably well. So how about numerically?
Well, in the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton won the national popular vote by about 2.85 million. But her margin in this state alone was well over 4 million — a figure that flew in the face of the prevailing winds. Apart from quirky Utah, which threw much of its support behind rogue never-Trump Republican Evan McMullin — remember him? — no state lurched leftward between the 2012 and 2016 elections by nearly as much as California did. Clinton even won Orange County — the first time a Democrat did so since 1936, when the O.C. had 4 percent of the population it has today, and probably a lot more oranges.
In Congress, California currently has 53 seats in the House of Representatives, of which 39 are held by Democrats and 14 by Republicans. Of those 14 GOP districts, Clinton beat Trump in half of them. (As every single Republican member of Congress from California voted to repeal Obamacare this year, that means seven reps are confident this was a fluke — or else they’re fine potentially sacrificing their political careers solely for the sake of screwing over millions of their fellow citizens.) But put another way, barely one-eighth of the state’s population voted for Trump and sent a Republican to Congress in 2016. As recently as the mid-1990s, that figure was just shy of half.
The GOP lock on the federal government together with the near-absolute guarantee that the affluent, engaged Bay Area will elect a whole lot of Democrats in 2018 and beyond puts the restive region in a curious position: What do we do with this surplus energy? Rep. Nancy Pelosi will not need much grassroots help from anybody next November in her pursuit of a 16th term. Neither will Sen. Dianne Feinstein — assuming she runs for a fifth full term at age 85 — nor whichever Democrat runs to replace her. How and where do we redistribute all this fervor?
Well, Nevada and Arizona, for starters. The seats held by senators Dean Heller and, to a lesser extent, Jeff Flake, are considered the only two viable opportunities for Democratic pickups — and they just so happen to border California, which makes coordinated outreach and volunteering a little more practical than helping out, say, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Heller already has a credible opponent in Rep. Jackie Rosen.
Closer to home, of the 14 GOP-held seats, the only ones within a few hours’ drive of San Francisco are the 1st district in the extreme northeast corner of the state, the 4th — which covers the northern Sacramento suburbs and much of the Sierras — and four districts at the southern end of the Central Valley. But of those, only one is a particularly viable pickup opportunity: Rep. Jeff Denham’s district, which is anchored in Modesto. You can get there in a couple hours and raise some hell. Hopefully, people don’t slam the door shut on you when you say where you’re from.
But let’s face it: Only the truly dedicated give of their time. For most people, even people clinging to their precarious and grossly expensive housing situations, it’s easier to make small, regular donations to good candidates. Worthy endeavors like the Sister District Project connect blue-state liberals with potentially winnable races elsewhere, channeling their diffuse power into more potent forces, like a suspension bridge cable made of many thin metal wires. And as it happens, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — which sounds like, but is not the same thing as, the Democratic National Committee that put its thumb on the scales to squash Bernie Sanders — is targeting those seven Republicans whose seats Clinton won. Perhaps the most endangered incumbent is San Diego County’s Rep. Darrell Issa, the wealthiest sitting member of Congress, and a guy who squeaked by in 2016 by 51-49 over a challenger who has already vowed to run again.
It’s not as if Californians haven’t already been punching above their weight this cycle, either. In the two-part special election held earlier this spring in suburban Atlanta, 30-year-old documentarian Jon Ossoff came close to winning in a heavily Republican district. (Well, he came close in the first round of voting. But after the race became a wildly expensive proxy battle between pro- and anti-Trump forces, the district reverted to its strong GOP lean.)
More importantly, it became one of the most expensive Congressional races in U.S. history. Of the staggering $23 million Ossoff raised through the end of May, $1.1 million came from the Golden State — while less than $850,000 originated in Georgia.
In the end, the money was poorly spent. Ossoff, who didn’t even live in the district he sought to represent, ran as an overly cautious non-ideologue even though many voters tend to favor ill-informed passion over articulate centrism. But with a little more focus and discipline, progressive Californians with a national perspective on things have the potential to do good — if only because there are so many of us. (One in every eight Americans lives here, after all.)
Feisty liberals would do well to act soon, following the model of an effective advocacy group, the pro-choice EMILY’s List. That organization doesn’t honor a woman named Emily who lost her life to a back-alley medical procedure; it’s an acronym that stands for “Early Money Is Like Yeast.”
Which is to say, it makes dough rise.