Skelton: Will inflation help California Republicans win races?

Gasoline that eats up your wallet. Rising food prices. Priceless housing. Plunging stocks.

In short: inflation, an election year plague for Democrats.

But is it in California? Republicans haven’t been competitive here for a long time. Democrats could simply thwart here.

Add to that the likelihood of power outages, devastating wildfires and choking smoke this summer – again. Also, water cuts because of the drought. Persistent homelessness.

And no baby food.

We won’t know the full political ramifications of economic hardship, natural disasters and deterioration in lifestyle until November.

But historically inflation has hurt the party in power. That’s the Democrats right now – in Washington and Sacramento. And that’s the worst inflation in 40 years.

For comparison, the last time inflation was this bad, voters ousted Democratic President Carter and installed Republican Ronald Reagan in 1980. Republicans captured the US Senate for the first time in 26 years, taking 12 seats. The GOP won 34 seats in the House of Representatives, but Democrats maintained comfortable control.

In California, Republicans won six seats in the House of Representatives and three in the State Assembly.

However, the playing field is very different this time.

Luckily for President Biden, he’s not up for re-election. Even in deep blue California, the Democrat isn’t all that popular: 48% approval of the job and 49% disapproval among likely voters, according to a poll released last week by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California.

Gov. Gavin Newsom and US Senator Alex Padilla are on the ballot, but they’re virtual shoo-ins.

The only nationwide contest where inflation and uncontrolled spending could help a Republican is the race for controller. Lanhee Chen, a Stanford public policy lecturer and former campaign adviser to Mitt Romney, has a chance to become the first Republican to win statewide office since 2006.

A handful of congressional elections could also be impacted by inflation. So all bond proposals could be on the ballot.

“Inflation is the only problem that affects almost everyone,” says Republican adviser Dave Gilliard. “It doesn’t matter if you earn minimum wage or if you’re among the richest people in the country.

“I think it’s going to be the dominant theme.”

“High inflation always affects elections,” says Democratic strategist Garry South. “But politicians can’t do much to change that.”

Well, there is actually something they can do: Stop handing out big stimulus packages — trillions from the government and billions from the state. It fuels inflation.

“There’s no doubt that pumping that much money into the economy had an inflationary effect,” says South. “But on the other hand, do you want the economy to go into recession? It is a Hobson choice. We pay the price.”

He adds that “Sending billions of dollars to help motorists pay for gas could actually increase gas prices…

“But I think the Supreme Court overturning Roe vs. Wade will have a bigger political impact than inflation. It will have a demonstrable impact in California.”

Gilliard says, “November comes down to Democrats talking about abortion and guns and Republicans talking about inflation and the border.”

But David Townsend, a strategist for moderate Democrats, says that inflation “tops everything. Roe vs. Wade, Ukraine, Trump madness – all of that fades into the background when people worry about money and the cost of things.”

The PPIC poll produced data that should disrupt the party in power.

“This is bad news for Democrats,” said PPIC President and pollster Mark Baldassare. “Financial worries are one factor that makes people want change.”

Probable voters were asked what they thought was the most important issue facing California. No. 1 by far was “Jobs, Economy and Inflation”. That was the answer of 24%.

No. 2 at 13% was “Cost of Housing and Availability”, partly a derivative of inflation. Then came homelessness at 11%.

Republicans were more worried about inflation than Democrats. But it was an even bigger concern among independents — 32% named it the state’s most important issue.

“Independents think more like Republicans,” says GOP advisor Matt Rexroad.

If so, it could change electoral dynamics in California.

Independents have aligned themselves with Democrats in voting in recent years. Officially listed as a No Party Preference, their registration numbers are slightly lower than Republicans, who outnumber Democrats by almost 2 to 1.

The PPIC poll found that independents tend to think more like Republicans on issues other than inflation. They believe California is moving “in the wrong direction,” and they disapprove of the way both Biden and the state legislature are doing their jobs.

But a host of independents said they intend to vote for a Democratic congressional nominee. Overall, 55% of likely voters said they would support a Democrat race in the House of Representatives; only 35% plan to support a Republican.

However, the poll found that Republicans are more likely to vote than Democrats and independents. Half of GOP voters are “very” or “extremely” excited about voting in the general election. Only a third are Democrats and Independents.

“Inflation will affect Republican turnout,” says Baldassare. “They’re upset with the economy…

“The biggest thing for me about the survey is that it shows an enthusiasm gap. This is bad news for Democrats.”

But Republicans can’t win with enthusiasm alone. In most communities, they need votes from Democrats and Independents. And Californians were unwilling to accept the GOP as an alternative to one-party rule.

This will hardly change even with painful inflation, record petrol prices and inexcusable homelessness. Republicans still oppose abortion rights and gun control. Skelton: Will inflation help California Republicans win races?

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