Democrats now outnumber Republicans in San Luis Obispo County for the first time in memory.
According to recent voter registration data from the County Clerk’s Office, 59,970 Democrats hold 34.7 percent of registrations, while 59,256 Republicans hold 34.3 percent.
Of significance is the growing No Party Preference (NPP) vote — 24.2 percent. Miscellaneous minor parties make up the balance.
If Democrats focus on these independent voters, they can defeat locally elected Trumpsters like 5th District County Supervisor Debbie Arnold, 1st District Supervisor John Peschong, Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham (assuming they’re challenged) and numerous city council and lesser office holders.
The best way for Democrats to do that is to shackle local Republicans to Donald Trump and make them own their fealty to the most dishonest, corrupt president in American history.
In this era of hyper-partisanship, trying to convince Trump voters to come over to the right side of history is probably a losing strategy.
Conversely, the growing disgust with Trump’s government-by-chaos grifterism may motivate voters who have traditionally sat out elections to cast ballots this cycle. New research supports this notion (more on that below).
Strikingly, perhaps foolishly, Arnold proudly trumpets Trumpism.
“(Trump) really cares about making improvements when they’re needed, in an efficient way,” Arnold effused to The Tribune in October 2018, upon returning from a White House visit with other California county supervisors. “It was like a ‘help me help you guys. Tell me what’s really going on and together we can be more efficient.’”
Since then, Trump has pushed oil drilling in the environmentally sensitive Carrizo Plain, threatened to withhold billions in disaster relief for California’s wildfires, been sued 50 times by the state, tried to revoke California’s unique ability to set its own air pollution rules under the federal Clean Air Act, and has demanded a rollback of the Endangered Species Act, under which otters, whales and other marine life have thrived off the California coast.
Reminding independent voters of that record is essential to motivating their opposition.
Prior to Election Day on March 5, 2020, Arnold should be required to publicly explain her support of Trump’s actions and their negative local impacts.
She won in 2012 by some 1,300 votes, and roughly the same margin in 2016. While today there are still 1,291 more Republicans than Democrats in District 5, the remaining 10,519 voters there are NPP or minor party. They may well be ready to definitively reject Trump and his local acolyte.
Rather than trying to sway Arnold’s Trumpist voters, District 5 challenger Ellen Beraud needs to motivate independent voters.
A new political theory called “negative partisanship” might do it. The phenomenon is being studied by a relatively unknown political science professor, Rachel Bitecofer of the Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy at the Christopher Newport University in Virginia.
She’s making headlines for accurately predicting the “blue wave” Democratic Party capture of 42 House seats in 2018, and predicting a landslide loss for Trump in 2020.
“The main driver of the suburban revolt away from the GOP is college education,” Bitecofer argues. “Trumpism has … galvanized a previously complacent part of the electorate: white, college educated millennial women, as well as all voters under age 40 … .”
Bitecofer maintains the surge in Democratic voter turnout — regardless of message — is attributable solely to Trump.
“It’s important to clarify one point profoundly misunderstood,” Bitecofer argues, “2018 is a story of turnout, and turnout was powered by one thing and one thing only: Donald J. Trump.”
Contrary to conventional wisdom, “Democrats did not flip these Republican districts via the support of moderate Republicans due to their focus on health care. Instead … Democrats’ sharp reversal in their abysmal midterm electoral fortunes was powered by large turnout surges of partisan Democrats and Independents,” she argues.
Like it or not, Bitecofer says, typical low-turnout elections in our polarized, hyper-partisan era result in voters becoming more entrenched in their respective parties, causing elections to be decided by which party (and their NPP leaners) has a “turnout-boosting enthusiasm advantage.”
That enthusiasm advantage on the left nationwide is driven by Trump.
Here in SLO County, Democrats would do well to focus their campaign messaging on Trumpism and its negative local impacts. Getting into the policy weeds may be tempting, but it’s a proven losing strategy. Simply put, most voters don’t care.
Trump may facilitate his own undoing, but only if the anti-Trumpists vote.
Tom Fulks writes about current events in SLO County and around the world from a liberal perspective. He’s a former reporter and serves on San Luis Obispo County’s Democratic Central Committee.