Republicans are converging for their quadrennial convention in New York this week, but the closest most Bay Area voters will ever get to a prominent Republican is on their living room television set.
GOP leaders from Sacramento to Washington, D.C. have made the political calculation that they can win elections without the help of the Bay Area. The trend among Republican candidates is to avoid campaigning in the Bay Area, with rare visits to the region coming only for fundraisers or to make obligatory courtesy calls on Silicon Valley executives.
While many Democrats and liberal independents may say ‘good riddance’ to the loss of Republican campaign visits, being written-off by the political party that controls the Governor’s office, the White House and Congress could have a serious financial impact on the Bay Area.
Our regional economy is heavily dependent upon state and federal government spending. While there are several prominent Democrats representing the Bay Area in Washington and Sacramento, the power of the government purse is largely dictated by Republicans. From a $38,000 National Endowment for the Arts grant to the Boys and Girls Clubs of San Francisco, to the billions being spent to retrofit the Bay Bridge, the Bay Area needs continuing government assistance.
Despite the overwhelming statewide victory of Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 2003 gubernatorial recall election, the Bay Area remains electorally hostile territory for Republicans. There are twice as many registered Democrats in the region than Republicans, with less than 25 percent of voters in the Bay Area registered as members of the GOP. In contrast, California as a whole has a 35 percent Republican voter registration rate.
To put this Democratic dominance in context, of the 109 cities in the Bay Area, Republicans have a registration majority in only three cities, while Democrats have 50 percent or higher registration in 43 communities.
The Republican presence in the Bay Area is shrinking rapidly. Analysis by the Bay Area Center for Voting Research shows that between 1999 and 2004, Republican registration in the Bay Area fell from 26.9 percent to 24.6 percent. This represents a net loss of 74,000 GOP voters – an equal number to the population of Livermore.
This lack of support for the Republican Party explains why GOP candidates running statewide have largely abandoned the Bay Area in recent elections.
In some cases Republican candidates are doing more than just ignoring the Bay Area and its 3.3 million voters, they have begun using the region as a campaign issue. This approach seeks to rally conservative voters in rural parts of California around the premise that the Bay Area’s voters are out of step with the rest of the state and that the region has a disproportionate influence on elections.
If this electoral strategy continues, the Bay Area may find itself left on the sidelines during elections. This could have long-term implications for the Bay Area, as victorious Republicans heading to Sacramento and Washington may be less generous to the Bay Area with government spending than other parts of the state.
Regardless of one’s party affiliation, there is no doubt that the Bay Area needs Republican support to thrive and grow. It seems increasingly clear, however, that Republicans aren’t convinced that they need us.