Skelton: Will inflation help California Republicans win races?

Wallet-eating gasoline. Soaring grocery prices. Unaffordable housing. Falling stocks.

In short: inflation, an election-year bane for Democrats.

But is it in California? The Republicans haven’t been competitive here for a long time. Democrats could just navigate through this.

Add to that, however, the likelihood of power outages, devastating wildfires and choking smoke this summer – again. Also, water cuts due to drought. Persistent homelessness.

And no formula.

We won’t know the full political impact of economic hardship, natural disasters and lifestyle aggravations until November.

But historically, inflation has hurt the ruling party. It’s currently the Democrats – in Washington and Sacramento. And it’s the worst inflation in 40 years.

For perspective, the last time inflation was this bad, in 1980, voters ousted Democratic President Carter and installed Republican Ronald Reagan. Republicans captured the US Senate for the first time in 26 years, winning 12 seats. The GOP won 34 seats in the House, but Democrats retained comfortable control.

In California, Republicans won six seats in the House and three in the state assembly.

The playing field, however, is quite different this time around.

Fortunately for President Biden, he is not eligible for re-election. Even in the deep blue of California, the Democrat isn’t so popular: 48% job approval and 49% disapproval among likely voters, according to a poll released last week by the Public Policy Institute of California. , non-partisan.

Governor Gavin Newsom and US Senator Alex Padilla are on the ballot, but they are virtual shoo-ins.

The only statewide contest in which inflation and unchecked spending could help a Republican is in the race for controller. Lanhee Chen, a Stanford public policy instructor and former campaign adviser to Mitt Romney, has an outside chance to become the first Republican to win a statewide office since 2006.

A handful of congressional races could also be influenced by inflation. The same applies to any proposal for obligations on the ballot.

“Inflation is the one problem that affects almost everyone,” says Republican consultant Dave Gilliard. “It doesn’t matter if you’re on minimum wage or if you’re one of the richest people in the country.

“I think that will be the dominant problem.”

“High inflation always impacts elections,” says Democratic strategist Garry South. “But it’s not something politicians can do a lot.”

Well, there’s actually something they can do: stop handing out big economic stimulus packages – trillions from the federal government and billions from the state. It heats up inflation.

“There’s no doubt that pumping so much money into the economy has had an inflationary effect,” South says. “But on the other hand, do you want the economy to go into recession? It’s a Hobson choice. We pay the price. »

He adds that “sending billions of dollars to help motorists pay for gas could even raise gas prices….

“But I think the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade will have a bigger political impact than inflation. It will have a demonstrable effect in California.

Gilliard says that “November comes down to Democrats talking about abortion and guns and Republicans talking about inflation and the border.”

But David Townsend, a moderate Democrat strategist, says inflation “transcends everything. Roe versus Wade, Ukraine, Trump madness – all of that takes a back seat when people worry about money and the cost of things.

The PPIC poll has produced data that should confuse the ruling party.

“This is bad news for Democrats,” said PPIC chair and pollster Mark Baldassare. “Financial worries are a factor that makes people want to change.”

Likely voters were asked what they thought was the most important issue facing California. Number 1, by far, was “jobs, the economy and inflation”. That was the 24% response.

Number 2 with 13% was “housing costs and availability,” partly a derivative of inflation. Homelessness comes next with 11%.

Republicans were more concerned about inflation than Democrats. But it was an even bigger concern among independents — 32% called it the state’s most important issue.

“Independents think more like Republicans,” says GOP consultant Matt Rexroad.

If so, it could change the electoral dynamics in California.

Independents in recent years have leaned toward Democrats in their vote. Officially listed as No Party Preference, their registration numbers are slightly lower than Republicans, who are outnumbered by nearly 2 to 1 by Democrats.

The PPIC poll found that independents thought more like Republicans on things other than inflation. They think California is going “in the wrong direction” and they disapprove of the way Biden and the state legislature are handling their work.

But a plurality of independents have said they intend to vote for a Democratic candidate for Congress. Overall, 55% of likely voters said they would support a Democrat in House races; only 35% plan to support a Republican.

The poll, however, found that Republicans are more eager to vote than Democrats and independents. Half of GOP voters are “very” or “extremely” enthusiastic about voting in House elections. Only a third of Democrats and independents are.

“Inflation will affect Republican turnout,” Baldassare said. “They are unhappy with the economy….

“The biggest thing for me about the poll is that it shows an enthusiasm gap. This is bad news for Democrats.

But Republicans can’t win with just enthusiasm. In most communities, they need the votes of Democrats and Independents. And Californians have been unwilling to accept the GOP as an alternative to one-party rule.

That’s unlikely to change, even with painful inflation, record gas prices and inexcusable homelessness. Republicans still oppose abortion rights and gun control.




Los Angeles Times

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