Let’s start with a question: Can you name a Republican running for a statewide office in November?
If you answered Neel Kashkari, you’re among the dwindling number of voters who, polls say, are still paying attention. (Extra points if you can name other GOP nominees on the state ballot.)
Kashkari, the banker who later oversaw the federal bailout of the banks after the 2008 financial crash, is the Republican nominee for governor.
In the latest poll, he is trailing the incumbent, Democrat Jerry Brown, by 21 points.
Think these are hard times for Republicans? In Sonoma and 11 other counties, we learned last week, voters who decline to state a party preference now outnumber Republicans.
For the reporting period that closed on Sept. 5, 51.7 of the local electorate were Democrats, 21.3 percent were voters with no party preference, and 21.2 percent were Republicans.
This is a small difference — unless you recall that decline-to-state voters used to be the small change on voter registration reports. As recently as 1999, 29.9 percent of Sonoma County voters were Republicans and only 11.8 percent were declined-to-state voters.
No one should be surprised. From Earl Warren to Ronald Reagan, Republican candidates embraced the crazy idea that it was a good thing to have the maximum number of voters like you.
In recent years, the ideologues who came to dominate the GOP seemed happiest when they were offending one group of voters or another. The list is long — women (who represent more than half the population), Latinos, gays, immigrants of all nationalities, students, public employees, teachers.
Scoring points with old, white guys may work if you’re starting a cable news network, but it’s not much of a strategy if you’re trying to win elections.
At a time when voters were expressing their disapproval of both parties, Republican leaders could have remained competitive. Instead they righteously rejected the idea that their party should compete for the moderate and independent voters who decide most elections.
If you’re a Democratic loyalist and you think the decline of the Republican Party demonstrates your party’s popularity with independent voters, you would be … wrong.
A national poll by the Gallup organization last week found that a majority of Americans believe it’s time for a third party. A state poll last week found that only one in three likely voters approves of the performance of the Democratic-controlled state Legislature.
A generation ago, Republicans were still competitive in the North Bay counties, but the landscape changed. New voters cared about environmental protection, women’s rights, education, social services. They didn’t view government as the enemy.
None of these issues belonged to Democrats, or at least they didn’t before a new generation of Republican activists decided they wanted to become the anti-government, anti-immigrant party.
California is worse for the experience. Effective government depends on the willingness of the two parties to meet in the middle and engage in serious problem solving.
Kashkari — remember him? — is among those trying to drag his party back to the center. The son of immigrants from India, he is pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, a centrist on social issues. He walked in a gay rights’ parade in San Diego.
Even Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, the tea party favorite, thinks the Republican Party in California needs to change. “When our party looks like America — with earrings and without earrings, with ponytails and without ponytails, with tattoos and without tattoos — when we look like the rest of America — white, black, brown — we’re going to win again,” he told the state GOP convention last week.