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Democrats expand edge in state as 2020 looms
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — With the 2020 elections approaching, California voter registration figures released Wednesday tell a familiar story: Democrats are expanding their ranks, Republicans are struggling, and the fastest-growing group remains those voters aligned with no party at all — independents.

The trajectory highlights long-running trends in the strongly Democratic state, where the party holds every statewide office, dominates both chambers of the Legislature and counts a more than 4 million voter edge in registrations.

The figures by Secretary of State Alex Padilla also showed Democrats gaining ground in some highly competitive U.S. House districts the party snagged from the GOP in 2018.

Overall, California had 20,328,636 voters as of Oct. 1. Nearly 81 percent of eligible residents are registered to vote, the highest percentage since 1952, Padilla said.

According to the figures, Democrats account for 44 percent of registered voters, up about 1 point from the same time before the 2016 presidential primary election. They increased their numbers during that span to 8.9 million voters, up from 7.4 million in 2016.

Republicans account for about 24 percent of the total, down several points from 2016. The party’s statewide registration numbers remained essentially flat during the four-year span, tallying about 4.8 million in the latest count.

The fastest-growing group was independents, who represent nearly 27 percent of registered voters. The number of unaffiliated voters, who technically register as “no party preference,” climbed to 5.4 million in October, a more than 30 percent jump from 2016.

The latest data underscore trends that have seen the GOP become largely irrelevant in statewide politics, though the party retains pockets of political power, particularly in rural areas.

Then-candidate Donald Trump lost California in the 2016 presidential election by over 4 million votes to Hillary Clinton. The most recent Republican presidential candidate to carry the state was George H.W. Bush in 1988.

In the 2018 elections, Democrats grabbed a string of GOP-held House seats in a rout, giving the party a 46-7 edge over Republicans in the state.

In some competitive congressional districts in Southern California, the recent tally appeared encouraging for Democrats.

At this point before the 2018 primaries, Republicans held a slim registration edge in the GOP-held 39th District, which was picked up by Democrat Gil Cisneros that year. But the advantage has flipped: Democrats now hold a 2-point edge in registration, the figures showed.

In Orange County’s 45th District, which was captured last year by Democrat Katie Porter, Republicans held an 8-point registration edge in the months before the 2018 primary. Heading toward the 2020 contests, that GOP advantage has been cut in half.

In the nearby 48th District, which was captured by Democrat Harley Rouda last year, Republicans had a comfortable 11-point advantage heading into the 2018 primary. That edge is now 7 points, the figures showed.