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A Viagra for bored voters?

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POSTED November 8, 2014 1:23 a.m.

SACRAMENTO  — Democrats won every statewide office and a comfortable majority of the congressional delegation and legislative seats. Yet at Capitol Weekly’s election postmortem confab Thursday, Republicans were giddy, and many Democrats were, well, agitated.

Even for California Republicans, Tuesday was heavenly. To start, they spent Tuesday night watching the GOP make big gains nationally — a happy change of pace. In state, it’s true, as Democratic strategist Jason Kinney pronounced, that Dems had a “wildly successful year.” The Dems won every statewide office on the ballot and the majority of legislative districts. Still, the GOP may well have poached three Democratic-controlled congressional seats. Longtime incumbent Rep. Jim Costa is trailing against a little-known Republican dairy farmer, named Johnny Tacherra — even though Costa’s seat was not on politicos’ watchlists.

Republicans picked up seats and prevented the Democrats from holding supermajorities in both houses of the Legislature. It’s the first time, wrote California Target Book publisher Allan Hoffenblum, that any Democratic incumbents were defeated since 1994. What’s more, the GOP put three Asian-American women in the Legislature.

But the Dems should have been high-fiving one another for still owning most of Sacramento, right? Instead, California Democratic Party Chief Financial Officer Angie Tate told the audience that people juggling two jobs and families didn’t feel as if they had time to vote. And: “Did we lose some races? Most definitely. Did we know coming in we’d lose some races? Duh.”

The folks who watch these things believe that when all the ballots are counted, the turnout will be lower than the state’s record-low turnout of 50.6 percent of registered voters in November 2002. Panelists predicted that it will be less than 40 percent. Sacramento has passed a rash of laws to make it almost automatic to register, as easy as going to the mailbox to pick up your ballot, and Californians are increasingly less likely to vote.

Paul Hefner, spokesman for state schools chief Tom Torlakson’s successful campaign, noted that many Californians “didn’t think it would make a big difference in their lives.” Democratic strategist Andrew Acosta admitted, “People were just checked out.” And he laid some of the blame on President Barack Obama.

The panels offered up a spectacle, a sweet spectacle. Days after the election, GOP regulars were tipping their hats to California Republican Party capo Jim Brulte, while Democrats were pointing fingers at one another. Wouldn’t turnout have been higher if Gov. Jerry Brown had spent more time — and, better yet, more money — on the campaign trail? “They give Jerry Brown too much grief for not campaigning” enough for Democrats, Acosta shrugged.

GOP strategist Mike Madrid lit the flame of discontent when he spoke about the consequences of Democrats not using $1 million to bump off Republican Neel Kashkari and help GOP Assemblyman Tim Donnelly win the right to run against Brown. With Donnelly on the November ballot, Madrid contended, Democrats could have used Donnelly’s past as a Minuteman at the Mexican border to lather up anger and churn out the Latino vote. When Democrats pull out the race card, it’s like Viagra for minority voters.

Asked about Madrid’s comments, Brown guru Ace Smith said the campaign rejected that notion as “too clever by half.” It is a testament to Dao Gov’s team that it chose not to take the low road when partisans surely urged it to do so. Off the podium and even after the close of business, strategists continued to argue about the tactic.

What does it say about the California Democratic Party that the surest way it could have increased turnout would have been by backing a retro Republican so it could have used him to race bait?

Voter turnout has hit a record low for obvious reasons. This is a one-party state, so there is little combat at the ballot. (You want high turnout? Put a measure to split California from the rest of the nation, as Scotland did, and you’ll see record-high turnout.) All the things good-government types wanted manifested in this election — little mudslinging, reasonable campaign spending and policy issues — and most registered voters didn’t show up. That’s despite the Democrats’ vaunted get-out-the-vote organization.

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