California Republicans take center stage for 2024 election

Your guide to California policy and politics
Lynn La BY Lynn La September 28, 2023
Presented by New California Coalition and California Water Service

California Republicans take center stage for 2024 election

California is at the center of the political universe this week — at least in Republican circles. 

Wednesday night at the Ronald Reagan presidential library in Simi Valley, seven GOP presidential contenders showed up for the second televised primary debate. But one very large elephant wasn’t in the room — former President Donald Trump, who spent Wednesday in swing state Michigan instead.

Trump, however, will be at the state Republican Party fall convention in Anaheim. He’s popular among the rank-and-file, and he’s the scheduled keynote speaker for the Friday luncheon, with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis set to deliver the Friday dinner address.  

But as CalMatters Capitol reporter Sameea Kamal explains, much more is at stake at the convention than any boost for a presidential candidate.

The California Republican Party, which hasn’t won a statewide election since 2006, is at something of a crossroads. One example: In July, its policy committee recommended updating its platform to remove specific opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion — two policies that are popular in California. 

But many in the party are not keen on changing its core ideologies to court new voters. 

  • Eric Early, who has lost twice for attorney general and is now running for U.S. Senate: “The last thing we should be doing as a state party right now is trying to water down the party platform to try and kowtow, frankly, to certain groups that will never be friendly to Republicans, regardless.”

But staying true to its base may hurt the party’s prospects in 2024. As Mike Madrid, former political director for the state party and a longtime political strategist, told Capitol Weekly: “The Republican Party is really not trying to be a viable political party anymore in California. It’s kind of content being this small, regional marginalized social movement… and that’s probably what it’ll be for a very long time.”

Read more on the state of the state GOP in Sameea’s story.

Survey says: A new poll provides some context for the convention. The Public Policy Institute of California poll found that Trump is at 48% among Republican likely voters — just short of the 50% plus one he needs in March to sweep all 169 delegates under the new rules party leaders passed. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is the only other candidate in double digits, at 14%.

But in a rematch with President Biden, the poll suggests that Trump would lose handily, again, in deep-blue California: Biden leads 57% to 26% among likely voters. He beat Trump in 2020 by a 63% to 34% margin. 

And in the race for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Democrat Dianne Feinstein, if the primary were today, it appears that two Democrats would move on to the general election. Among likely voters, Reps. Adam Schiff (20%) and Katie Porter (15%) are well ahead. A third Democrat, Rep. Barbara Lee, is at 8%. Two Republicans, James Bradley and Early, each come in at 5%.

A reminder: A poll is only a snapshot in time and is only as accurate as the methodology. This one was conducted Aug. 25 to Sept. 5 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points among likely voters.

While Trump was a no-show at the debate, guess who stopped by?

Gavin Newsom, representing the Biden campaign, appeared at what he earlier dismissed as “a vice presidential debate.” And California’s governor wasn’t any more charitable afterwards: “What a clown show.”

In the “spin room,” Newsom elaborated a little, telling MSNBC that the candidates didn’t offer any real solutions. “I really believe the winner tonight was the Biden agenda,” he said.  And on Fox News: “Joe Biden won the debate.”   

Newsom also called DeSantis a liar and a hypocrite, to which Fox anchor Sean Hannity replied: “Save that for the debate.” 

That would be the long-negotiated Fox face-off between Newsom and DeSantis on Nov. 30. In an interview Wednesday with Fox 11 Los Angeles anchor Elex Michaelson, Newsom said he’s not sure that DeSantis will still be a presidential candidate by then since he’s “belly flopped” so badly. 

“The fact he took the bait in relation to this debate shows he’s completely unqualified to be president of the United States,” Newsom said. “…Why’s he debating a guy who’s not even running for president?” 


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1 CA gunmakers are just hanging on

Guns for sale at Rifle Supply in Huntington Beach on Sept. 21, 2023. Photo by Alisha Jucevic for CalMatters
Guns for sale at Rifle Supply in Huntington Beach on Sept. 21, 2023. Photo by Alisha Jucevic for CalMatters

One of the 23 gun safety bills signed by Gov. Newsom on Tuesday was of particular interest to California’s shrinking number of gun manufacturers.

Assembly Bill 28 adds an 11% retail tax on guns and ammunition and is expected to raise $160 million a year for gun violence prevention programs. 

But for gunmakers, explains CalMatters Capitol reporter Alexei Koseff, it’s the latest blow as they try to stay in business in a state with the nation’s strictest gun laws.

  • John Koukios, owner of gun manufacturer and retailer Rifle Supply in Orange County: “This business in California has an expiration date. Every time they change a law and take something away, it takes another chunk out. At what point does it get whittled down so far that I can’t employ all of my employees anymore, that I can’t actually make enough money to operate a functional business?”

The new tax won’t directly cause Koukios’ business to close (Rifle Supply has about $10 million a year in sales, according to Koukios). But customers are likely to bear the brunt of the tax, and the firearms industry will have to manage yet another hurdle in an already challenging political and business climate. 

Given California’s mounting restrictions, some business owners Alexei spoke to are tempted to move out of the state altogether. But state leaders deny they’re trying to shut down the gun industry: “If that was the intent, it would have been a much higher number,” said Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel, a Woodland Hills Democrat and author of the bill.

Read Alexei’s story to see how gunmakers are reacting to the new tax.

More bill signings: On Wednesday, Newsom announced signings of nine abortion rights and reproductive care bills, including Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins’s SB 487, which would prohibit health insurers and the state from penalizing medical providers who have been sanctioned in other states for performing abortions or gender-affirming care procedures. 

This follows the state Attorney General’s announcement that the office will sue two anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers for false advertising over “abortion pill reversal,” as well as the governor’s approval of SB 385 on Sept. 8, also authored by Atkins, which would allow trained physician assistants to conduct surgical abortions without direct supervision by a physician.

CalMatters is tracking the fate of other key bills: Bookmark this page for updates.

2 How to keep students in college

Students walk through campus at Sacramento City College on Feb. 23, 2022. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters
Students walk through campus at Sacramento City College on Feb. 23, 2022. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters

CalMatters’ community college reporter Adam Echelman dives deep into two issues impacting California colleges and their students: A bill on the governor’s desk that could make it easier for community college students to get financial aid, and the dearth of 20 to 30-year-olds returning to campus after the pandemic.

To determine financial aid eligibility, every school uses a broad federal requirement. But many schools have additional stipulations: UC San Diego, for instance, requires a 2.6 grade point average for students on certain athletic scholarships, and a couple of Santa Clara County community colleges require at least a 2.0 GPA every semester (instead of a 2.0 GPA averaged over time, like most community colleges). 

For first-year community college students receiving financial aid, roughly 25% fail to meet these academic requirements. And without that money, many end up dropping out.

Assembly Bill 789 aims to change that by forcing schools to drop additional requirements that exceed federal mandates. The measure would cost taxpayers as much as $9.5 million a year, but Assemblymember Marc Berman, a Palo Alto Democrat and the bill’s co-author, argues “there’s more long-term gain” to be had.

For more on the bill, and its impact on students, read Adam’s story.

As some students struggle for aid, California community colleges continue to grapple with enrollment that plummeted to a 30-year low during the pandemic. Since then, teens and students 30 and older (despite leaving at record rates) have been slowly returning to school. One age group that continues to lag behind, however, are students ages 20 to 30.

One factor many college administrators cite is the economy. With ample job opportunities and rising wages in jobs that don’t require a college degree — such as in the service or logistics industries — students often choose work over school. With its warehouses, Amazon, for example, is the largest private employer in the Inland Empire. This decline not only means colleges risk losing state funds, but could lead to a less educated or less skilled workforce. 

To learn more about what community colleges are doing to woo back these students, read Adam’s story.

Have a question about higher ed? Fill out this form (also in Spanish) and it could be answered by the CalMatters’ College Journalism Network.


CalMatters Commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: For more than 25 years, a place on the California Chamber of Commerce’s “job killer” list was a bill’s death sentence. This year has been a bit different.


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See you tomorrow


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