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In all-blue California election results, lessons for Democratic Party

In the face of a GOP juggernaut across much of the US, Golden State voters opted for Democrats in major statewide races. California election results are not just an anomaly, analysts there say.

By Daniel B. WoodStaff writer / November 3, 2010

California Gov.-elect Jerry Brown celebrates his election win during a rally in Oakland, Calif., on Nov. 2.

Eric Risberg/AP

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Los Angeles

Democrats did something right, at least, in California.

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In the face of a surging GOP elsewhere in the nation, California voters – who had credible and interesting Republican candidates to choose from in two big statewide races – elected to go with Democrats over Republicans, long-time politicians over fresh faces, single-party control over divided government, and, some would say, pragmatism over anger.

Do the state's election results hold lessons for the Democratic Party? Or is that bucking of the national trend nothing more than California being California – living in its own la-la land?

Not so, said some voters here. Their votes were born of experience, including a gridlocked state government that is perennially unable to grapple effectively with a multibillion-dollar budget deficit.

“Elsewhere in America, people are angry and so they looked at the president and voted the opposite party to make a statement," says Megan Martinez, a 20-something emergency medical technician, at the Sen. Barbara Boxer victory celebration. "Californians are angry but took the time to really look at [Democratic gubernatorial candidate] Jerry Brown and Barbara Boxer versus [GOP competitors] Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina. They chose experience over fresh faces because we’re in very tough times. We already tried a fresh face with [Gov.] Arnold Schwarzenegger, and that didn’t work.”

California election results mean that the state is one of the few to remain all blue: Democrats will sit in the governor's office, hold both US Senate seats, and control the state legislature. Even Massachusetts has recently elected a Republican (Sen. Scott Brown in January), and reliably blue New York isn't sure yet which party will control the state Senate.

Analysts credit an intense burst of support by longtime Democratic allies – plus the party's edge among the many racial and ethnic subgroups here – for turning out the Democratic vote.

“Labor, the Democratic Party, and ethnic voters helped the Democrats win and buck the national GOP tide,” says Hal Dash, president and CEO of Cerrell & Accociates, a Democratic strategy consulting firm.

California's relatively large shares of Latinos, Asians, Pacific Islanders, and African-Americans tend to skew Democratic. That contributes to the Democrats' advantage in voter registration: 44 percent of voters register as Democrats, compared with 31 percent as Republicans and 25 percent as third-party or decline-to-state.

“Republicans in California just did not have the numbers or turnout statewide to topple Boxer and beat Jerry Brown,” says Mr. Dash. “Democratic enthusiasm started slow but finished strong, and that was another key.”

California's results are not just an aberration and may be a bellwether of what's to come for the rest of the nation, argues political scientist Barbara O'Connor.

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