Sunday, October 4, 2009




Even though no Republican candidate for president or the U.S. Senate has carried California since 1988, it’s still not entirely impossible for a Republican to be elected governor next year.

But that task just got a bit harder, despite the enthusiasm the GOP felt after its late-September state convention.

For as the political meaning of the latest figures on new citizen voters becomes ever more clear, it’s plain they will make this state even bluer than it has already been for decades. That’s mostly because of what they believe about Republicans and the immigration issue.

Here are the newest figures: More than 1 million immigrants became naturalized U.S. citizens last year, the largest group ever sworn in during a single year. Fully 300,000 of the new citizens live in California, and more than half are Latinos. During one month – September 2008 – 34,000 immigrants became citizens in the Los Angeles area alone. In most cases, they had to pass voter registration tables as they left the large rooms where judges and others conduct the swearing-in ceremonies. This means most are now registered voters.

Freshly-minted citizens are more likely to vote in the first year or two after assuming their new status than later. That means next year’s California electorate will likely lean more strongly Democratic than ever before. Prior to last May’s special election, registered Democrats outnumbered Republicans in the state by a 44-31 percent margin, with the others on the rolls either declining to choose a party or belonging to one of several minor ones.

Even newer than the citizenship statistics is a survey on Latinos and why they vote Democratic from Miami-based pollster Sergio Bendixen, generally considered to conduct the nation’s most reliable studies of Hispanics.

“The growing support for immigration reform among Latinos – both native-born American citizens and immigrants – is the biggest change in their political outlook over the last six years,” Bendixen says.

His survey, conducted for the Washington, D.C.-based immigration reform lobbying group America’s Voice, found 82 percent of Hispanic voters say immigration reform is one of the three most important issues today, the others being the economy and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Three out of four believe the anti-illegal immigration movement is growing and will create discrimination against them and their families. And 69 percent of Latino voters, whether born in this country or not, are personally acquainted with at least one illegal immigrant.

Just as important, they believe by a 71-11 percent margin (with 18 percent on the fence) that Democrats will be more sympathetic than Republicans to immigration reform allowing some form of amnesty.

The Bendixen poll surveyed 800 Hispanic voters in states containing 85 percent of the Latino electorate, with a major share of the survey conducted in California.

Since approximately 80 percent of 2008’s new citizens registered to vote, the survey findings mean new citizens in California are likely to vote Democratic next year by very large margins. Add them to the more than 1 million citizens naturalized in California over the previous eight years, and it’s no wonder this state’s politics look so different from they way they were in the heyday of Ronald Reagan during the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s.

This can only make things easier for U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer’s reelection campaign and more difficult for conservative Republican candidates for governor like Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner and former eBay chief executive Meg Whitman. It means whoever gets the GOP nomination will have to adopt the strategy suggested by the other major Republican candidate for governor, former Congressman Tom Campbell, who says he would emphasize next fall the dangers of one-party dominance of state government. Continued Democratic control of the Legislature is almost assured by the combination of voter registration figures and current legislative district lines.

Also, every survey of their political preferences indicates Latinos and Asian-Americans, who together make up more than 90 percent of the newly-sworn citizen corps, are more supportive of government social programs and spending than the overall electorate. Yet another reason they are likely to vote Democratic.

Latinos, for example, favored the five budget-related state ballot propositions that were easily defeated last spring in an election where fewer than one-fourth of eligible voters participated.

Far more voters will turn out next year, when actual candidates appear on most ballots, along with propositions that look to be far sexier than those in the special election.

Add it up, and Republicans have a steeper hill to climb in California than ever before.

Email Thomas Elias at For more Elias columns, visit

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