Hard to swallow

Step away from the edge: That’s the message Der Arnold delivered to the California Republican Party Friday in a speech at its annual convention.

The state party is out of touch with Californians and needs to come back to a more moderate brand of conservatism if it ever expects to be able to regain majority status, the governor said.

Judging by reports that the audience reacted with a chilly silence, the speech didn’t go over too well. That shouldn’t be any surprise, though. The state Republican Party — and, to be fair, the state Democratic Party as well — is heavy with activists who represent the most strident versions of party philosophy.

That’s due in part to the way California’s electoral districts are drawn. There are few districts in the state where either a Republican or a Democrat stands a good chance of winning a seat in the state Assembly or Senate. Most districts instead are “safe” for one party or the other, and in a safe Republican district the real competition isn’t between a Republican and a Democrat in the general election, but rather among various Republicans in the primary to see who will represent the party as the general-election candidate. Candidates compete to out-Republican each other, and this plays well with the voters who actually vote in the primaries, who tend to be more on the right fringe. So it’s the rightest of the Republicans and the leftest of the Democrats who appear on the ballot in many general elections.

Overall, these safe districts add up to a numerical composition in the Legislature that favors Democrats. So the problem for the Republican Party is that it can’t gain enough seats the way things work now. Furthermore, the state’s population is concentrated on the coast (though that may change if urban planning policies continue to push development to the center of the state), and almost all the coastal districts lean heavily blue. Schwarzenegger’s assessment appears to pencil out, but it should be no surprise that it’s not something that California’s Republican state legislators or party activists want to hear.

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