Cross-posted at Swing State Project.
Here is my analysis of the 2008 election in my home state of California. As I mentioned in my 50-state analysis, California was a mixed bag on November 4, 2008. The presidential results were anything but disappointing, while we came up short further down the ballot, from the House races to the state legislature and the 12 ballot measures.
I was amazed as I saw polls leading up to Election Day showing Obama up by more than 20 over McCain, and was astonished at the 61-37 Obama blowout that ended up occurring on Election Night (and the calling of the whole Left Coast for Obama, putting him over 270 electoral votes and making him the winner!). I couldn’t wait to check out the county results and see which ones flipped for Obama and which ones were close.
As the final absentee ballots rolled in, I was able to check out the numbers, and see that Obama way outperformed Kerry, winning by 3 million votes and pumping up his national popular vote numbers very nicely. In fact, Obama outperformed every single Democratic presidential candidate except one, scoring the second-best Democratic presidential performance in California’s history after Franklin Roosevelt in 1936. As you can see, Obama gained 1.5 million votes over Kerry, while McCain, who claimed he could compete in California, lost half a million votes from Bush.
2008: Obama 8,274,473; McCain 5,011,781
2004: Kerry 6,745,485; Bush 5,509,826
Looking through the voting histories of the California counties that went to Obama, I found that Obama broke some longtime Republican streaks in quite a few counties. Obama won a majority of the vote in two counties that last voted Democratic presidentially with more than 50% of the vote in 1976, Merced and Trinity.
Most significant are the six counties that in 2008 voted Democratic presidentially with more than 50% for the first time since 1964: Nevada, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Joaquin, San Luis Obispo, Ventura
And finally, San Diego County, which last voted for a Democratic presidential candidate with a majority of the vote in 1944, also delivered a majority of the vote to Obama!
Obama also came close to winning majorities, instead winning close pluralities, in Butte, Fresno, and Stanislaus Counties. The last Democrat to win a majority in Butte and Fresno was Lyndon Johnson in 1964, and the last Democrat to win a majority in Stanislaus was Jimmy Carter in 1976.
Now I will do a tour of the state, north to south. I will give a bit of an overall summary of California’s counties: Obama improved upon Kerry’s performance in all 58 of them. The amount of improvement varies from region to region, and the numbers are over the flip.
Counties = Del Norte, Humboldt, Mendocino, Lake, Sonoma
Combined population = 800,932
2004 = Kerry 63%, Bush 34% (D+29)
2008 = Obama 69%, McCain 28% (D+41)
Obama improved considerably over Kerry’s margins in this part of the state, growing Democratic margins in Humboldt, Mendocino, Lake, and Sonoma, while cutting McCain’s margin in Del Norte County to half of Bush’s. These growing Democratic numbers in this formerly swingy region (CA-01 changed parties 4 times in the 1990s alone) suggests this region will continue to trend Democratic for the foreseeable future.
Counties = Butte, El Dorado, Lassen, Modoc, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyou, Tehama, Trinity
Combined population = 1,205,952
2004 = Bush 61%, Kerry 38% (R+23)
2008 = McCain 54%, Obama 44% (R+10)
Our next stop is this sprawling, low-density region. I figured McCain would crush Obama in this small town-heavy region, even overperforming Bush’s numbers. When I examined the counties in this region, all of which went for Bush in 2004, I was shocked. Not only did McCain underperform Bush here, he actually got FEWER votes than Bush did. Obama even won 3 counties outright: Butte, Nevada, and Trinity. This region will likely continue to be considerably Republican, but Democrats can become more competitive here if they grow their margins in Butte County (home of UC Chico) and the Tahoe region. Some of this area, most notably Placer, is becoming more like suburban Sacramento and may also continue to trend Democratic. These numbers show that we can win here, and if we can find more Charlie Browns, we might be able to pull off wins in this region, namely Congressional District 4 (which will very likely be open in 2010 when McClintock runs for governor) and Senate District 4 (which will be open in 2010 due to term limits). A couple of Assembly seats here will be open in 2010 as well. Let’s jump-start that 58-county strategy!
San Francisco Bay Area
Counties = Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano
Combined population = 6,791,908
2004 = Kerry 69%, Bush 29% (D+40)
2008 = Obama 74%, McCain 24% (D+50)
A very blue region in a very blue state just keeps on getting bluer with each election. Republicans will be extremely lucky if they can get even a third of the vote here again! In addition to overwhelming Democratic numbers, every single Congressional, State Senate, and State Assembly district is in Democratic hands, almost parallel to the shutout Republicans suffered on the House level in New England. Only if the Republicans return to being the party of Earl Warren and Hiram Johnson will they have a prayer of winning here again. The funny thing is that this region used to be a very Republican region in a very Republican state back in the early 20th century, and San Mateo County was the origin of powerful Republican governor Hiram Johnson and the Progressive movement in California, which Republicans of that time embraced. The region shifted strongly to the Democrats in the 1950s, with 1956 being the last time San Francisco and Alameda Counties voted Republican presidentially, and has not looked back since.
Counties = Amador, Calaveras, Colusa, Glenn, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Sutter, Yolo, Yuba
Combined population = 2,606,646
2004 = Bush 51%, Kerry 48% (R+3)
2008 = Obama 56%, McCain 42% (D+14)
This is a swing area, with Democratic strongholds in the city of Sacramento and Yolo County, home of UC Davis, and Republican strongholds in the Sacramento suburbs (though their majorities here are getting smaller and smaller by the year), and Amador, Calaveras, Colusa, Glenn, Sutter, and Yuba Counties. San Joaquin County, the second-biggest county in the region, has been a Republican-leaning county in recent history until the influx of people from the Bay Area and the overall Democratic trend of suburbs near the Bay Area, culminating in a double-digit win for Obama in the county and the region. This region is also trending Democratic on the congressional and state legislature level, giving victories to Democratic Congressman Jerry McNerney, and Democratic Assemblywomen Alyson Huber and Joan Buchanan.
Counties = Alpine, Inyo, Mariposa, Mono, Tuolumne
Combined population = 108,338
2004 = Bush 58%, Kerry 40% (R+18)
2008 = McCain 53%, Obama 44% (R+9)
Like the northern mountain region, McCain got fewer votes here than Bush did and Democrats saw a modest improvement from 2004 here. The 2 Democratic counties, Alpine and Mono, used to be two of the strongest Republican counties, even voting for Bush in 2000, but an influx of young people from the San Francisco area to work on the ski resorts shifted these counties to Kerry and even more for Obama. If we can get a similar trend in the other counties, then this region too may become Democratic before long.
Counties = Monterey, San Benito, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, Ventura
Combined population = 2,275,917
2004 = Kerry 54%, Bush 45% (D+9)
2008 = Obama 60%, McCain 37% (D+23)
This region was normally divided in half, with the northern half of the region (Monterey, San Benito, Santa Cruz) leaning strongly Democratic and the southern half (San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura) leaning Republican aside from the Democratic stronghold of Santa Barbara. Now that barrier has been shattered, with all 6 counties (yes, including San Luis Obispo!) going for Obama. This provides us with great opportunities to expand our majority in the upcoming State Assembly elections in 2010 and the State Senate elections in 2012. You will also notice that this region is generally the bellwether region for determining how California will go in statewide/presidential elections. Not surprisingly, the bellwether county of San Benito is also in this region.
San Joaquin Valley
Counties = Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Merced, Stanislaus, Tulare
Combined population = 3,270,343
2004 = Bush 62%, Kerry 37% (R+25)
2008 = McCain 52%, Obama 46% (R+6)
Here is another Republican stronghold, though unlike the mountain regions, this one is more populous, with population centers in Fresno and Bakersfield. Every county here was Republican in 2004, and then Obama punched holes in the Republican firewall, winning Merced and Stanislaus Counties, as well as the big prize of Fresno County. We still have work to do here on the state level though, since we lost the 30th Assembly district last year. Though maybe with that Yacht Dog Nicole Parra gone and the Democratic trend here, we may have a chance to regain that district in 2010.
Counties = Imperial, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego
Combined population = 20,951,621
2004 = Kerry 52%, Bush 46% (D+5)
2008 = Obama 59%, McCain 38% (D+21)
And finally, our tour ends in the Southland, the most populous region in the state, which alone holds more than half of the state’s population in a mere 6 counties and is home to the state’s 2 largest cities, L.A. and San Diego, and the state’s 3 most populous counties (L.A., Orange, and San Diego). As recently as 2004, L.A. and Imperial Counties were the only Democratic counties in the region. Obama changed that, blowing even more holes in Republican strongholds, turning 3 more counties blue with majorities in Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego, and falling just two points short in Orange County, nearly staging a complete sweep in this former Republican stronghold. That spells trouble for certain Republican Congressmen/women, as well as State Senators and Assemblymembers, some of which are term-limited in 2010 and/or scored weak wins in 2008. Probably the most exciting part of California to watch in the 2010 elections will be right here in the Southland. My hometown of Rancho Cucamonga in San Bernardino County went for Obama. I can only hope it and many more cities in the region continue to trend to the good guys! If the Democrats have a lockhold on the population centers in Northern and Southern California, then there will be ZERO chance of Republicans winning this big prize again!
Whew! Now that I’ve finished the marathon tour of my big, beautiful home state, I can give the region-by-region breakdown of Democratic improvements from 2004 to 2008, ranked from the smallest shift to the largest shift. Here they are:
Eastern Mountain/Yosemite: 9%
San Francisco Bay Area: 10%
North Coast: 12%
Northern Mountain: 13%
Central Coast: 14%
Sacramento Valley: 17%
San Joaquin Valley: 19%
Every region shifted considerably more Democratic, though the biggest shifts occurred in the regions that up through 2004 were swing or Republican-leaning areas. These are the areas we need to target heavily to make the biggest gains.
With some legislative seats open in 2010 due to term limits, we can take some of them and further inflate our Democratic majority in this state. If the California Democratic Party, with the new fresh faces of Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) actually invests in the legislative races, we can make major gains and have no more disappointments that we had in 2008’s U.S. House and legislative races, where Democrats, especially in swing districts in Southern California, underperformed Obama. Also, with enough investment, we will hopefully also have no more disappointments in the ballot measures such as Prop H8. And a suggestion I have for reforming our dysfunctional ballot measure system is to not have any repeat ballot measures such as Prop 73 (2005)/85 (2006)/4 (2008) and also require a supermajority (say 60%) on passing some measures. And of course we need major reforms in the legislative system, such as doing away with the ridiculous 2/3 rule for taxes and budgets.