Grizzly transformation: How Reagan’s red state revolution faded into Newsom’s blue bulwark

The race for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination runs through Democratic-dominated California next week.

The second GOP presidential primary debate will be held Wednesday at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. And two days later, some of the top contenders for the Republican nomination will address the California GOP’s fall 2023 convention in Anaheim.

While modern-day California is a heavily blue-shaded state, Republicans once thrived in statewide contests.

The GOP carried California — which for six decades has been the nation’s most populous state — in every presidential election but one from 1952 through 1988.


But Democrats have captured the state’s large cache of electoral votes in every presidential election the past three decades, and have topped 60% of the vote in the past four White House contests.

It’s a similar story in Senate elections, with incumbent Pete Wilson’s 1988 re-election the last time a Republican won a Senate contest in California.


Republicans used to dominate gubernatorial elections in the Golden State — with Ronald Reagan, George Deukmejian, Wilson and Arnold Schwarzenegger each winning two terms over the past six decades. But Schwarzenegger’s 2006 re-election was the last time a Republican won the governorship or any other statewide executive office in California.

“It’s been decades since it’s been a red state,” Jack Pitney, a political science professor at California’s Claremont McKenna College, noted.

Pitney says the Democratic political surge in the state the past half century is due to “a combination of things — economics, demographics, Prop 187.”

“The end of the Cold War meant the defense industry downsized,” Pitney spotlighted. “The defense industry was always a bulwark in California of the Republican Party.”

He also said that, to a degree, Prop 187 shifted the states growing Hispanic population towards the Democratic Party.

The California ballot proposition, which passed in 1994, established a state-run citizenship screening system and prohibited illegal immigrants from using non-emergency health care, public education and other state services.

Next year’s high-profile Senate election in the race to succeed longtime Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein is further evidence, Pitney argued, that the California GOP — which produced two presidents and four governors during a half-century span — “barely exists” anymore at a statewide level.

While three well-known Democratic House members are running for the Senate, no major Republicans have entered the race.

And while California Democrats have dramatically outraised their Republican rivals in recent years, there are bright spots for the state GOP. 

Republicans picked up five congressional seats in the state in the 2020 and 2022 elections, helping to make Californian Kevin McCarthy House Speaker.

California GOP Chair Jessica Millan Patterson told Fox News that “Californians are responsible for the House majority.”

Looking forward, Patterson said “we are edging towards” being competitive again in statewide races.

Republicans point fingers at two-term Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom and the veto-proof supermajorities the Democrats hold in both houses of the California legislature.

“I think Californians are getting to a point where they’re very fed up with what California Democrats have served up over the last decade,” she argued. “So we hope to be a viable alternative to that.”

Patterson noted that “we have a lot of opportunities here in California,” and that with the right candidate and the right resources, victory may be in reach.

Get the latest updates from the 2024 campaign trail, exclusive interviews and more at our Fox News Digital election hub.

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