Advancing a Free Society

California’s Hitless Wonders

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Only the hardest of hardcore baseball nuts knows the tale of Bill Bergen.

A catcher with the Brooklyn Superbas (now the Los Angeles Dodgers), and blessed with skilled hands and a rifle for an arm, Bergen was the embodiment of “good field/no hit”.

Bergen holds the dubious distinction of going 46 at-bats during the 1909 campaign without a base hit – the longest such streak by a position player in major-league history. Indeed, some argue that he was the worst non-pitching hitter in the history of the game).

If there’s a comparable hitless streak in American politics these days, it might belong to California Republicans – specifically, their congressional candidates.

Here’s why:

On Tuesday night, Democrat Janie Hahn won the special election in California’s 36th Congressional District, a seat vacated by Democrat Jane Harmon.

That makes for the 200th consecutive time that the GOP has failed in both special and general elections to pick up a Democratic-held U.S. House seat (8 special-election wins; 192 in various Novembers).

Which is amazing – not as in the “Amazing Mets”, but the amazingly awful ’62 Mets.

To be filed under “the more things change, the more they remain the same”: California Republicans took away two Democratic House seats in 1998 – the Sacramento-centric 3rd CD and the 36th CD.

Yes, the same district that was up for grabs earlier this week.

Even harder to believe: the Democratic loser in that race was the same Democrat who won on Tuesday: Janice Hahn . . .

. . . Competing for a seat vacated by – you guessed it – Jane Harmon, who had opted for a failed gubernatorial bid in 1998.

Here are three stats that will give Republicans a case of the blue-state blues:

  1. California now accounts for 34 of House’s 193 Democratic members – at 18%, the largest percentage in state history.
  2. Going back to 1850, California and New York enjoys their greatest presence in the House Democratic caucus (28% vs. 21% after the last Democratic congressional collapse in 1994).
  3. Going back to California’s woes: the streak is worse than advertised. Take the GOP’s 0-200 run in House races since 1998, and add on another five U.S. Senate races lost over the same stretch to Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer. By that standard, the “streak” is 205 and counting.

Is there a light at the end of the tunnel for the California GOP? Redistricting would seem to hold potential. But even that’s problematic for the Republican cause out west. Three to five seats currently help by GOP congressmen might go Democratic after the district lines are redrawn (at present, Republicans account for 36% of California’s House delegation; the GOP makes up about 31% of Golden State voters).

Then again, California’s experimentation with a citizen-controlled redistricting process may be about to experience a major glitch if it fails to meets its July 28 deadline for finishing the new boundaries.

A final thought: as with all streaks, there’s a question of circumstance versus mechanics. The last time Republicans won in the 36th Congressional District, the GOP candidate garnered 88,843 votes, or 48.89%. On Tuesday night, and in special election with a lighter turnout, the losing Republican received 34,636 votes, or 45.4%.

Which tells you that California Republicans have a choice. They can continue to curse their bad luck – which may grow to at least 253 straight House losses by November 2012. Or they can get to work and make sense of the 3.5% difference between winning and losing – California’s political version of a “game of inches”.