George Boardman: Blue wave may have missed the rest of the country, but not Nevada County
Observations from the center stripe: Questions edition
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The blue wave practically inundated the partisan races contested in Nevada County’s general election, even if the wave barely made it ashore in the rest of the country.
There’s really no argument about this anymore. As the last three general elections and three special elections since 2016 made it clear, the county has turned from purple to blue when it comes to voting for political preferences.
The real question is how did this happen in a county with a basically stagnant population for the last 10 years?
The election results also show that Nevada County is the outlier in the first and fourth congressional districts, and California’s first state Senate and first state Assembly districts. Republicans have won easily in those districts for years.
County voters have shown a preference for Democrats at the federal and state levels in recent years. Barack Obama carried the county each time he ran, and Donald Trump’s support in the county slipped from 42.5 % in 2016 to 40.7% this year. (Nationally, Trump picked up an additional 7 million votes this year from 2016.)
The trend is really striking when you examine the congressional and state Legislature races since 2016: While the Republicans have easily prevailed in their districts, their support in Nevada County eroded significantly.
Take Rep. Doug LaMalfa, an easy winner in all of his races. LaMalfa got 50.5% of the Nevada County vote in the 2016 election, plummeting to 44.7% in 2018 and 44.2% this year. (The 2020 results were not final as I wrote this.) Rep. Tom McClintock, whose fourth district includes the Truckee area, did even worse, sinking from 35.2% of the vote in 2016, to 23% in 2018, and 24.3% this year.
The last time Ted Gaines ran for the first state Senate seat in 2016, he captured 52.3% of the vote in Nevada County. His successor, Brian Dahle, got 46% of the county’s vote this month.
Brian Dahle’s successor in the state Assembly, his wife Megan, got 44.8% of the county’s vote in a 2019 special election for the seat, and 44% of the vote in Nevada County this month.
These kinds of shifts are usually attributed to a growing population that changes the political makeup — an influx of liberals into Georgia and Arizona is cited as the reason these reliable red states are now in play. But after climbing 7% from 2000 to 2010, Nevada County’s population has increased just 1% in the last decade. So what has changed?
I suspect the answer can be found in the fact that Nevada County’s average age is significantly higher than the rest of the state. The median age in the county is 46.8 years, compared to 36 in the state, according to U.S. Census figures. Over 28% of the county’s population is 65 or older; it’s 14.3% for the state.
As older, more conservative residents have died, they have been replaced by flatlanders who are more liberal. The change makes for heavier sledding for Republican candidates, and doesn’t figure to get easier anytime soon.
As Barack Obama once told Mitch McConnell, “Elections have consequences.” But aside from the obvious winners and losers, elections can have consequences for people and outfits you won’t find on the ballot. Then there are the winners who turn out to be losers, and vice versa. Here are some of each:
WINNER: Donald Trump, who will clearly dominate the Republican Party for years to come. That’s why no Republican running for reelection in 2022 or seeking the party presidential nomination in 2024 will challenge his bogus voter fraud claims.
LOSERS: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, neither of whom delivered on the blue wave expected by Democrats and predicted by the polls. Schumer was so shocked he was rendered speechless for several days after the election, heretofore considered impossible.
WINNER: Mitch McConnell, now the most important Republican in Washington and the second most important person in the government.
LOSER: Martha McSally, who managed to lose two U.S. Senate seats in as many years, flipping two reliable Republican seats to the Democrats in the process. The voters of Arizona are sending you a message, Martha.
WINNERS: Republican legislatures. Democrats tried to flip 10 of them and didn’t succeed in any of them. Now they control redistricting, which will influence elections for a decade.
LOSERS: Political pollsters, who have now managed to whiff twice in a row on Donald Trump. It’s time to go back to the drawing boards, boys.
WINNERS: New York criminal defense attorneys, who figure to get a lot of work from a certain real estate developer who is currently living in Washington, D.C., and will soon be moving to Florida.
LOSERS: Californians, who gave Democrats almost total control of the state Legislature. As astute political observer Willie Brown pointed out: “The battles are largely between progressive Democrats and moderate Democrats. In other words, the Legislature could turn into an expanded version of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Who’s up for that?”
WINNER: NBC analyst Steve Kornacki, who became a media darling for his dorky style of updating and analyzing the vote count. People loved his ratty necktie and calculator.
LOSERS: Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who will have to wait at least two more years for the revolution to begin.
WINNER: Arnon Mishkin, the first to call Arizona for Biden on Fox News with just 73% of the votes counted. That decision inflamed the Trump camp, but to its credit, Fox News refused to back down from its call.
LOSERS: Evangelicals, who are dismayed that the next president actually takes religion seriously and practices his faith. But Protestant fundamentalists never much liked Catholics anyway.
WINNER: Fox News, which was consistently ahead of the competition in declaring presidential winners at the state level. Fox can be very good when it resists the temptation to throw red meat to its conservative audience.
LOSERS: Social media companies, which may lose their shield from being sued for what they publish while facing anti-trust litigation.
WINNERS: Nevada County pot smokers. Now that Grass Valley has decided to allow retail pot stores, the competition with Nevada City outlets should bring down the prices.
WINNER: Parler, the new microblogging site for ultra-conservatives who are afraid Twitter and others may silence their anti-Semitic rants and conspiracy theories untethered to reality.
LOSER: The election process. It is past time we have national, consistent rules for federal elections, especially when it comes to mail-in ballots. Once the rules are in place, the states will probably get in line when it comes to state and local elections.
George Boardman lives in Nevada City. His column is published biweekly on Tuesdays by The Union. Write him at boredgeorgeman@ gmail.com.
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