Swinging Red for Rand Paul

Illustration by Sean Maccabe
Illustration of Senator Rand Paul by Sean Maccabe

“Is government inherently stupid?” the Republican Senator asked the young Californian crowd; attempting to joke. Although, perhaps the real humor would lie in the odd circumstance of a right-winger’s hopeless attempt to court a distant, difficult, and deeply democratic demographic. “No…” was the answer; as unexpected and strange as the question’s proposer. However, laughter followed when it was accompanied with the qualifying statement “…but it’s a debatable question.” Freshman Senator Rand Paul found himself cracking jokes with an unlikely bunch of tech savvy young people of the Silicon Valley at an entrepreneurial get-together to share ideas that don’t necessarily align with either Democratic or Republican agendas. His welcome at the meeting hints that the whole state of California may be the shifting grounds of a strong expansion, towards neither the right nor left, and ultimately provide potential presidential candidate Rand Paul the ability to do what no other Republican can do: turn California red.

Popular opinion holds that California runs blue and that the Bay Area is its darkest shade, so a shift in any direction other than the left seems unfounded. However, one area does not represent a state.

California Secretary of State Voter Registration Data. Source: The Washington Post
California Secretary of State Voter Registration Data. Source: The Washington Post 2014

Unlike many other states, California has had a strikingly large and steady rise in “decline to state” voters that do not affiliate themselves wholly with one party. It is this very phenomenon that provides Senator Paul the opportunity to win a majority in California if he were to run for President. Many would point out, however, that the Republican Party held 35% of registered voters in 1999 and only 28% currently; a relatively large drop. How is that an indicator that California will go Red for Rand? In spite of this 7% decrease in the right, there has not been anything close to a 7% increase in the left. In fact, there has actually been a loss of 2% of voters affiliating themselves with the Democratic party. These voters are certainly not switching sides, or at least the sides we are watching.

In an examination of Washington, North Carolina, and New Hampshire’s voter registration data, all with semi-closed primaries like California since 2011, nowhere is such a non-affiliating sect more pronounced. “Individual Party Identification is on the decline” stated Brent Blackaby to me the day after the midterm elections. Mr. Blackaby is a partner a Trilogy Interactive; a strategic communication and technology firm for political campaigns, serving politicians such as California’s Senator Barbara Boxer, Elizabeth Warren, and Hillary Clinton. “More and more people dislike the left and right’s labels,” Blackaby added, they are not leaving the process but are “just becoming nonpartisans.”

These non-partisan voters, despite their disdain for the right and left, are not viable platforms for third parties to gain power. According to Blackaby, the fact that “it is so hard to run big campaigns without the structure of a party behind you” in California means that a third party wouldn’t have much success. Blackaby further mentioned that “the Parties have a huge amount of power to get that vote out in a big state like California.”  So in the case of Rand Paul, he can advertise himself in the style of a third party candidate, highlighting his unorthodox-but-popular views, and win over the ever growing non-partisans while relying on the Republican Party for support and in doing so win a slim majority on California.

“I think it’s smart. The only way you are going to win California statewide, as a presidential candidate is to move beyond the base,” Blackaby commented regarding this potential political strategy. “There aren’t enough Republicans to get elected…but if you use them as a base and pick up unaffiliated voters who care about the same issues you care about like privacy rights, civil liberties, foreign policy or economic issues,” then ultimately, “it’s truly an ingenious strategy.”

This shift in voting affiliation since the turn of the 21st century supports the concept that the “super democratic” California may be heading into a phase where the two party system isn’t very attractive; Rand Paul may be taking advantage of that.

The tech industry is another great example of Rand Paul’s systematic launch on even the Bay Area of California. Large technological leaders like Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel have been put in hot water when they financially back California conservative politicians, in hopes of heightened privacy rights or loosened regulation, but then have to suffer when their candidate goes out openly against gay marriage or other unfavorable social stances. And then when other leaders like Zuckerberg and Thiel back Democratic candidates in hopes of more work Visa access, they are blocked by added taxation. Rand Paul alleviates their problems like no other with his open stance on immigration, his tolerant views on gay marriage, and his advocacy of big business.

“These Visas are especially valuable” and are unable to be acquired by backing other conservative anti-immigration candidates, UC Berkeley Professor Robert Van Houweling noted in an interview. Professor Van Houweling, a specialist in United States voting behavior, says in Silicon Valley most workers are from overseas with work Visas, and that Senator Paul’s mix of positions would be invaluable to an entrepreneur trying to grow his or her company. This is just another example of Senator Paul building strong foothold in California by picking up “non-partisan”, Republicans, and even converted bay area techies.  “I call myself a conservative with libertarian leanings,” said Evan Baehr, co-founder of Able, an online lender to small businesses. “Conservatarian? It’s new for me, but it’s a fit,” Baehr added after a conference with Senator Paul. Concepts of growing business and shrinking government, encouraging international workers forging technology with a clear path to citizenship, and the protection of personal and corporate technological privacy has prompted many in the Bay Area to call themselves neither Republican nor Democrat but “Conservatarians.”

Perhaps in this era of Washington gridlock, a lot of Californians have been debating not only the question of whether “government is inherently stupid,” but whether the two party system is inherently stupid. Apparently the “most democratic voting city” in California is the site of Republican Senator Rand Paul’s new office. No Republican candidates has or plans to open an office in the Bay Area, let alone the state. This fact really drives home the point that California is changing. A hefty fifty-five Electoral College votes comes with a California win and might prove that hard work in the Golden State might pay off. As per example of the Republican’s success in gaining House seats in 2010, 2012, and 2014, the right is no stranger to winning areas by slim majorities. It by no means would be easy, but with the Republicans of California, the California tech industry’s political and financial support, and the exceptionally high amount of “non-partisan” voters, who are not to mention mostly former Republicans, it seems that it is more than a pipe dream to see a Republican win California who isn’t named Ronald Regan.