Thursday, October 8, 2009

President Bill Clinton & California's 10th Congressional District

Former President Bill Clinton endorsed California Lt. Gov. John Garamendi at the Basque Cultural Center in South San Francisco on October 6th. Garamendi is the Democratic nominee for the special election for California’s 10th Congressional District on November 3rd. Garamendi served in the Clinton Administration as Deputy Secretary of the Interior from 1995 to 1998.

Clinton is a pivotal figure in the political history of the 10th Congressional District. In 1992, he was the first Democratic presidential nominee to win California since the Lyndon Johnson landslide of 1964. Clinton won thirteen of the fifteen CD-10 cities then in existence (he lost only Moraga and San Ramon; Oakley would not be incorporated as a city until 1999). Michael Dukakis, the Democratic presidential nominee four years earlier, won just six of the fifteen cities.

In 1992, Clinton won three cities in today’s 10th District that had not voted Democratic since Johnson's trouncing of conservative Republican Barry Goldwater 28 years earlier: Dixon, Livermore and Walnut Creek. He also won Lafayette and Orinda, both of which had never supported a Democrat for president since their incorporation (in 1968 and 1985 respectively). It was an especially amazing transformation since the Bush-Dukakis election four years earlier. From 1988 to 1992, George H.W. Bush lost 24 percentage points in Livermore, 23 points in Walnut Creek, Lafayette and Orinda and 19 points in Dixon. Walnut Creek has not voted Republican for president since Clinton’s win in 1992. Clinton was the first Democratic presidential nominee to win Fairfield since Jimmy Carter defeated President Gerald Ford there in 1976. Although Clinton narrowly lost Moraga in 1992, he narrowly won it in 1996.

In the 1990s, the 10th District had a different configuration. It did not include Solano and Sacramento counties or El Cerrito or Concord; all of San Ramon, Danville, Clayton, Pleasanton, Dublin and Brentwood were in the district, along with Castro Valley and Ashland west of the hills. Assemblyman Bill Baker (R-Danville), a strong conservative, narrowly won CD-10 in 1992 (52%-48%) as Clinton carried the district over President Bush (42%-35%).

In 1996, Clinton won CD-10 again (48%-43%) over Republican nominee Bob Dole. Aided by Clinton’s coattails and heavy spending (more than $1 million) from her then-husband’s Computerland, Inc. fortune, Ellen Tauscher (D-Tassajara Valley) narrowly defeated Rep. Baker. Clinton endorsed Tauscher at a Halloween campaign rally at Oakland’s Jack London Square. Many children in attendance wore costumes. Tauscher won by about 4,100 votes (48.6% Tauscher vs. 47.2% Baker). Tauscher lost in many CD-10 cities that Clinton won, including Livermore and Pleasanton.

The California Supreme Court, which drew legislative districts following the 1990 census, explained its reasoning for drawing CD-10 as it did in its Wilson v. Eu opinion: "District 10 includes all of Contra Costa and Alameda Counties east of the East Bay Hills plus the unincorporated Castro Valley area west of the hills, which had to be included for population equality reasons." 1 Cal.4th 707, 789. Had the Castro Valley area not been added to CD-10 as an afterthought, Tauscher likely would not have been elected.

Had Castro Valley and Ashland not been in district, Tauscher would have lost to Baker because Eden Township (the only portion of CD-10 west of the hills, accounting for just 8% of the total CD-10 vote) gave her a 4,300 vote plurality. She won Ashland (a community in the Bay flatland near Interstate Highway 238) by 69%-25%, a 44 percentage point margin over Baker.

The "925" telephone area code was not created until 1998, but its west-of-hills/east-of-hills geological/political divide is useful for explaining the tenuity of Tauscher's victory in '96 -- Tauscher's big margin in the tiny, Democrat-laden "510" portion of CD-10 (8% of total CD-10 vote) overpowered Baker's small win in the enormous "925" part of the district (92% of total CD-10 vote).

In 2000, CD-10 supported Al Gore over George W. Bush (51%-45%). In the re-districting following the 2000 Census of Population, CD-10 was re-configured to become more Democratic, including the strongly Democratic community of El Cerrito and much of Concord, along with portions of Solano and Sacramento counties. Many of its most Republican areas were transferred to CD-11, a San Joaquin Valley-based district then represented by Richard Pombo (R-Tracy), who was finally ousted by Jerry McNerney (D-Pleasanton) in 2006. Just about all of the houses in San Ramon (Dougherty Valley) and Brentwood within CD-10 have been constructed since 2000.

John Kerry decisively won the new CD-10 over President George W. Bush in 2004 (59%-40%). Kerry lost just two cities with territory within CD-10: Brentwood and Dixon. For the first time in more than a half century, in 2004 Walnut Creek, Livermore and Fairfield backed a Democrat who lost the national popular vote for president.

Barack Obama did even better in 2008, winning CD-10 65%-33% over John McCain. Obama won not only all sixteen cities in CD-10, but also every city in the nine-county Bay Area, a feat that had not been accomplished since the California Secretary of State began reporting presidential vote by cities in 1964. The nearest cities to CD-10 that Obama failed to win in 2008 were Colusa to the north, Paso Robles to the south and Citrus Heights, Galt and Lodi to the east.

Of the eleven CD-10 cities that have been in existence since 1964, Dixon in Solano County is the "bellwether" -- its presidential election returns have mirrored national statistics the best. Dixon has voted for the national winner in 11 of the past 12 presidential elections; it was wrong only in 1976 when it favored Ford over Carter. In 2008, it voted 53.0%-45.0% for Obama-McCain, very close to the national percentages of 53.1%-45.8%. By CalPolitical's measure, Dixon is the sixth best "bellwether" city in California. (The best "presidential bellwether" city in California is Blythe, a city that is along Interstate Highway 10 near the Colorado River and Arizona border.)

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