The Democrats' upward line and the Republicans' downward line crossed in Ventura County on Monday, and Democrats took back the plurality of registered voters that they had lost a generation ago.
County Republican Chairman Mike Osborn concedes that it means that Democrats, at least temporarily, have "bragging rights" in the county. But does it mean much else?
In races for partisan offices, the countywide totals mean very little. The reason is that the gerrymandered legislative and congressional districts generally protect the incumbent party. so the Republican-held 37th and 38th Assembly districts and the 24th Congressional District will likely remain safely in GOP hands until at least the next redistricting. When the Democratic-controlled Legislature approved those lines in 2001, Republican analyst Tony Quinn told me today, they pretty much "screwed themselves." They did not anticipate the future voter registration gains they have realized statewide, so the lopsided districts will not allow them to maximize their gains.
Still, I think the arrival of a blue county will make a substantive difference in two areas:
1) Democrats in the county will begin to get more consideration from statewide party leadership. That means, for instance, the state party will devote more resources into voter registration -- helping those who help themselves, as it were. And it makes it more likely that Democrats will target the 19th Senate District as their No. 1 priority in state Senate races this fall.
2) The few politicians whose districts are countywide are going to have to rethink their approach to election and re-election. All the nonpartisan countywide offices -- sheriff, district attorney, treasurer-tax collector, assessor, county clerk -- are now held by Republicans. Each was elected by focusing attention and resources almost exclusively on Republicans. They and, to an even greater degree, their successors, are now going to have pay attention to Democrats. Even if they are registered Republicans, they are going to have to start making some appearances at Democratic clubs and Democratic events. To the extent that there was any disrespect of Democratic voters before, there will be no longer. In addition, it makes it possible for a Democrat to compete, for instance, for assessor.
Those two effects combine amount to more than just bragging rights. The change from red to blue could have real-life consequences, especially if the trend continues and Democrats ultimately widen their now very narrow lead.