If Republicans want to build on Scott Brown's victory in Massachusetts' Senate race in historically blue California this fall, they'll have to overcome the state GOP's inability to win over ethnic voters, or hope those voters stay home.
That's the implication of findings from a new Field Poll of California voters released this week in collaboration with New America Media. The poll, which was conducted in six languages across California's white, black, Hispanic, Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese communities, found that while incumbent Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and likely Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jerry Brown hold modest leads or trail potential Republican opponents among white voters, they more than make up for that with double-digit margins among non-whites.
"The main reason why California has become such a blue state is it's changing demography," said Mark DiCamillo, the Field Poll's Director. "Every election there are larger numbers of ethnic voters, and they tend to vote Democratic, while white voters remain undecided."
In the latest Field Poll, Republican challenger Tom Campbell beats incumbent Democratic Sen. Boxer 46 percent to 43 percent among whites, but trails by 10 points overall thanks to Boxer's 74 point advantage among blacks and 36 point advantage among Latinos. Boxer also leads Campbell by 28 percent among Chinese voters, 10 percent among Korean voters and 19 percent among Vietnamese voters, although high numbers of undecideds among the Asian electorate make those results less conclusive.
The Field Poll's results are similar in the governor's race, where Democratic Attorney General Jerry Brown leads Republican businesswoman Meg Whitman by 10 points overall despite a slim, one-point advantage among whites.
Jerry Brown leads Whitman by 69 points among blacks and 23 points among Latinos, however. He also enjoys a 20-point advantage among Chinese voters, a 6 percent advantage among Koreans voters, and an 18 percent lead among Vietnamese voters, though about half of Asian voters say they are still undecided.
DiCamillo says the results show that the California Republican Party has yet to repair its reputation among ethnic voters 16 years after the passage of Republican-backed Proposition 187, which barred undocumented immigrants from benefiting from many state services. Prop. 187 provoked a backlash that included a tidal wave of Democratic voter registration among Latinos and other immigrant communities.
As a result, DiCamillo says, any GOP victory in the Golden State, "requires a campaign that attempts to target those ethnic voters."
But that "hasn't been done successfully since [Prop.] 187," he said, though "it's still possible."
But some in the GOP say their party has other options, ones that do not depend on winning large numbers of votes from non-whites: they can get them to stay home.
Republican strategist Dan Schnur, who used Proposition 187 to ensure the re-election of Republican Gov. Pete Wilson in 1994, pointed to recent Republican victories in the gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey, which show if ethnic voter turnout is depressed the GOP win.
"The big challenge with Democrats with minority voters is not necessarily in winning their support but in getting them to turn out in high numbers," said Schnur, who now directs the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California.
If ethnic voters do not feel having Democrats in the White House and Congress are helping them, Schnur says, then those voters may simply stay home.
And so, it seems that for Republicans to win in California this November they will have to find a way to get voters like Sergio Moreno to stay home. Moreno, a groundskeeper for a rural school district outside Fresno, told New America Media he plans on voting for both Boxer and Jerry Brown even though "everything's going bad, and there's nothing to believe in any more."
"It doesn't matter if they're Democrats or Republicans -- as soon as they get up there, they do the opposite," he said. "Boxer's been there a long time. I guess she's getting comfortable."
Then why continue voting for her? "I just want the Democrats so they can make it better," he said. "I'm just trying to believe that it's going to get better."
Moreno says he'll definitely show up at the polls this November. "I'll go vote," he said. "I'm always there."