American public, beware: we are about to be bombarded with campaign ads on TV and social media. For political junkies, 2014 is a much-needed jolt of activity. Yet, 2014 may be more than just another election season; for those of us in California, we may witness the rise of a crop of new national politicians.
From 1952 through the 1980s, California has had an immense impact on American politics; a California Republican was on the presidential ballot in 7 of the 10 elections between 1952 and 1988. The 1990s and 2000s were a bit of a dry spell (although Jerry Brown did give Bill Clinton a scare in 1992 and Pete Wilson probably would have performed better in 1996 had it not been for throat surgery). But that may be about to change.
The past week has been abuzz about the possibility that Jerry Brown, currently in his third term as governor, could run for president in 2016. While a long-shot, Brown’s impulsiveness over his long political career has led to many phoenix-like adaptations.
If Brown wins decisively in 2014 for his fourth term, his eyes might just wander toward the political prize he so desperately wants.
A 2016 run could entail another epic Clinton vs. Brown saga, making for good TV and potentially forcing Clinton to the left, endangering her general election prospects.
Back in the Golden State, 2014 is likely to see Gavin Newsom (Lt. Governor) and Kamala Harris (Attorney General) easily win re-election. Newsom’s win (and Brown off running for President) would heighten his profile in the state, positioning him as the frontrunner for the 2018 gubernatorial election.
Following a strong finish in 2018, Newsom, the new fresh-faced eager Governor of the country’s largest state, would only have one logical place to set his ambitions: the 2024 Presidential election. Harris, on the other hand, would be uniquely positioned to succeed the retiring Dianne Feinstein in the 2018 Senate election, installing in the Senate a true embodiment of the modern San Francisco progressiveness.
You’ll notice, however, throughout this thought experiment one underlying theme. A vast majority of the action is taking place within just the Democratic Party. This is the result of the Republican Party surrendering a state that once fostered a host of national Republican leaders. Years of neglect, poor planning, and ignoring the shifting public views on many policy issues have left the Republican Party shut out of Californian politics.
Yet, 2014 could be the turning point. To reverse the downward spiral, Republicans need to realign their policy and message with what connects with California Independents, and even conservative Democrats in addition to Republicans; modernizing political operations is necessary, but not sufficient.
Republicans cannot lead with social issues, but rather must focus on pro-student education reform, fiscal responsibility, good governance, economic growth, and immigration reform. Republicans cannot be afraid of compromise, just like Ronald Reagan, as Governor, wasn’t.
Candidates, up and down the ballot, must both be credible and fit the district. A smart starting point is ensuring Kevin Faulconcer’s victory in the February special San Diego Mayoral election.
To win in California, and hence positively impact national politics, at the very least California Republicans need to truly become the party of growth and opportunity. It won’t be easy, but if it were, it would have occurred already.
Carson Bruno is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution who primarily studies California public policy, electoral politics, and public opinion. Follow Carson on Twitter: @CarsonJFBruno.