BUSINESS ‘No way out’: Demographics drive GOP nosedive on West Coast

BUSINESS

‘No way out’: Demographics drive GOP nosedive on West Coast

AP

07:58, February 27, 2020

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This Jan. 28, 2020 photo shows the Tower theatre located in downtown Bend, Ore., where the population in the early 1990s was around 25,000 and leaned Republican. (Photo: AP)

In the early 1990s, the population of Bend was around 25,000 and leaned Republican. A lumber mill operated along the banks of the Deschutes River in Oregon’s high-desert country.

Today, the lumber mill is an REI outdoor recreation store. The population has quadrupled. And for the first time in memory, the number of registered Democrats in Deschutes County recently eclipsed the number of Republicans.

The transformation shows how demographic shifts and the GOP’s tack further to the right are helping push the party into a nosedive along the West Coast.

The last Republican presidential candidate that California went for was George H.W. Bush. For both Oregon and Washington, it was Ronald Reagan. Now, Republicans are struggling to hold seats in Congress, statehouses and city councils up and down the coast.

California, Washington, and Oregon will hold their presidential primaries on March 3, March 10 and May 19 respectively, and which Democratic candidates they favor will become clear. But this much is certain: In November, none of the three states is apt to go for President Donald Trump, and there is little hope Republicans will claw back much ground in other contests.

Political districts have flipped in population centers, from San Diego in the south to Seattle in the north.

“There is no way out,” Chris Vance, a former Washington state Republican Party chairman and legislator, said in a telephone interview.

In San Diego, by the US-Mexico border, each of the nine city council districts now has more registered Democrats than registered Republicans, including one that until recently leaned strongly Republican.

In 1980, Orange County, near Los Angeles, was 80% white and a GOP stronghold. Today, Orange County is mostly Hispanic and Asian, with many displeased by Republicans’ hard stance on immigration. In 2018, voters there dealt a stunning defeat to a two-term GOP congresswoman.

The California GOP wound up losing six other US House seats that year, leading a former Republican leader in the state to declare: “The California Republican Party isn’t salvageable at this time.”

Democrats also hold the California governor’s office, both US Senate seats and almost complete control of the Legislature.

In Seattle, tens of thousands of tech employees have flooded into the city and its suburbs, hired by Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and Facebook. The influx of highly educated workers over the past decade helped fuel a population boom that made many communities much more diverse and affluent, and turned them away from the GOP and toward Democrats.

The result: The GOP has lost all the statehouse seats it once held in Seattle’s eastern suburbs.

Vance blames the area’s exodus of college-educated white voters, particularly women, from the GOP on the party’s turn toward more fundamentalist values under Trump. Vance himself abandoned the party in 2017 after an unsuccessful run for the US Senate as the Republican candidate.

“This was the party of nerdy, wonky, tweedy capitalists who cared about economic growth. Now it is the party of populists: alt-right, let’s keep the immigrants out, truck- and rifle-populists,” Vance said. “That works in Mississippi and Arkansas and stuff, but it does not work in the Seattle area.”

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, among a line of Democratic governors dating back to 1985, faces no significant GOP challenge as he seeks a third term in November. Both of Washington’s US senators are Democrats, and seven of its 10 US House members belong to the party. Democrats hope to expand their majorities in the Legislature, where they hold a 28-21 edge in the Senate and a 57-41 advantage in the House.

And Democrats in Oregon — who already hold the governorship, both US Senate seats and four of five US House seats — wield supermajorities in the Legislature, and are gunning for more seats.

One of them is the House seat representing Bend, currently held by moderate Republican Rep. Cheri Helt. Challenging her is Deschutes County Deputy District Attorney Jason Kropf, whose treasurer is a veteran political fundraiser.

The result: The GOP has lost all the statehouse seats it once held in Seattle’s eastern suburbs.

Vance blames the area’s exodus of college-educated white voters, particularly women, from the GOP on the party’s turn toward more fundamentalist values under Trump. Vance himself abandoned the party in 2017 after an unsuccessful run for the US Senate as the Republican candidate.

“This was the party of nerdy, wonky, tweedy capitalists who cared about economic growth. Now it is the party of populists: alt-right, let’s keep the immigrants out, truck- and rifle-populists,” Vance said. “That works in Mississippi and Arkansas and stuff, but it does not work in the Seattle area.”

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, among a line of Democratic governors dating back to 1985, faces no significant GOP challenge as he seeks a third term in November. Both of Washington’s US senators are Democrats, and seven of its 10 US House members belong to the party. Democrats hope to expand their majorities in the Legislature, where they hold a 28-21 edge in the Senate and a 57-41 advantage in the House.

And Democrats in Oregon — who already hold the governorship, both US Senate seats and four of five US House seats — wield supermajorities in the Legislature, and are gunning for more seats.

One of them is the House seat representing Bend, currently held by moderate Republican Rep. Cheri Helt. Challenging her is Deschutes County Deputy District Attorney Jason Kropf, whose treasurer is a veteran political fundraiser.


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