LOS ANGELES (AP) — Republicans and Democrats in California are struggling to keep voters motivated in advance of Election Day, but for different reasons.
Donald Trump was a longshot from the start in the strongly Democratic state, which hasn’t backed a GOP candidate for the White House since George H.W. Bush in 1988. Despite boasting he could win California, nonpartisan polling suggests Trump could be headed for a historically poor showing that could drag down other endangered Republicans.
Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, is fighting a growing sense of inevitability that could dampen turnout, while trying to sway undecided voters who may see her as uninspiring. Or worse. Wavering voters could be chilled, or Republicans energized, by the disclosure last week that the FBI will investigate whether there is classified information in newly discovered emails that appear to be related to the agency’s probe of Clinton’s email practices.
Democrats are looking to lure millions of newly registered, younger voters, especially Hispanics, who now outnumber whites in California.
But that youthful bloc comes with risk, said Democratic pollster Ben Tulchin, who worked for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic presidential primary. Those voters often don’t end up casting ballots, and, when they do, many ignore down-ticket races.
“They are the hardest vote, all the way down the ballot,” Tulchin said.
An estimated 14 million people will vote in California, more than half by mail. Democrats are looking for an overwhelming victory in their strongholds in coastal areas and big cities, while Republicans are desperate to just hold their ground in places like the Central Valley and Inland Empire.
This weekend, some voters waited more than two hours to cast ballots at early voting centers in Los Angeles County, said Mike Sanchez, a spokesman for the county’s Registrar-Recorder. Interest in early voting was also high in Orange County and San Francisco, election officials said.
Polling released last week by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California found Clinton crushing Trump in the state by 26 points, with the billionaire businessman favored by just 28 percent of voters. That figure, should it hold on Election Day, would represent the lowest percentage of the vote for a Republican presidential candidate in California in a century.
In the 1936 election, Republican Alf Landon was trounced by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, winning just 32 percent of the vote. George H.W. Bush, in a three-way race with Bill Clinton and Ross Perot in 1992, still managed 33 percent.
Trump, who has threatened to deport millions of people who entered the U.S. illegally and is facing fallout from a 2005 video in which he brags about groping women, has mostly ignored California and is focusing his efforts in Florida, Ohio and other battlegrounds.
With the retirement of U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, California’s has its first open Senate seat in nearly a quarter-century, but Republicans don’t have a candidate to back. The two on the ballot are Democrats — Attorney General Kamala Harris and U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez.
Republicans fear that discouraged party members will stay home, undercutting the chances for their congressional and legislative candidates.
“Trump will drive Hispanic turnout, but not in the way he will hope for,” said Michael Schroeder, a former state Republican Party chair who helped lead Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s primary campaign in the state. “A lot of Hispanics will come to the polls just to make a point of voting against him, and while they are at it will probably vote against our down-ticket Republicans.”
U.S. Reps. Darrell Issa and Steve Knight are among a handful of Republicans in tough fights, while the party is hoping to keep Democrats from gaining two-thirds majorities in the state Senate and Assembly that would give them a free hand on tax increases and other policies.
Vote-by-mail ballots turned in through last week show Republicans accounting for 31 percent of the total, with Democrats at 47 percent, according to nonpartisan research firm Political Data Inc. Independents, who typically vote more like Democrats in California, make up the rest.
Those numbers are running behind the GOP tally in the 2012 presidential election, when Mitt Romney eventually pulled in 37 percent of the vote in a 23-point loss to President Barack Obama.
The GOP’s last serious effort to carry California in a presidential campaign was in 2000, when George W. Bush and Republicans spent more than $15 million in the state and lost to then-Vice President Al Gore by 12 points. Republican registration has been withering in California for years, and it’s dipped below 27 percent.
Tony Krvaric, who heads the Republican Party in San Diego County that is home to over 3 million people, said Trump’s campaign has been largely invisible there. He said it does not have a local office, and he is unaware of any volunteer deployments in his area.
“Sadly, the Trump campaign has not provided any yard signs, door-hangers, bumper stickers, phones or financial support to our county, so we have had to raise money locally to even just get Trump door-hangers,” he said in an email.
In September, a Trump campaign email outlined plans to ship California volunteer “strike teams” to battleground Nevada, a practice followed in earlier presidential campaigns. Also, the campaign is organizing supporters in California to make thousands of phone calls to battleground states.
Republican activists who supported Cruz are volunteering in competitive congressional and legislative races, hoping to avert a blowout that has implications for control of Congress and the Legislature.
Meantime, the Clinton campaign appears to be taking nothing for granted. Her website provides a glimpse of the campaign’s activity, with scores of phone banks calling voters across the state.