Sunday, May 25, 2008

Dems gain control in East Bay cities

The East Bay's slow but steady transformation from conservative suburb to Democratic stronghold appears nearly complete.

In the past six months, four well-established GOP cities have flipped to a Democratic Party registration advantage, leaving only Danville and Clayton in the GOP's column.

East Bay leaders in both parties credit the uptick in Democratic Party participation to the sharply contested presidential contest, the national candidates' dogged pursuit of the youth vote, and hot issues including the Iraq war and the sour economy.

Among the 57,689 new registrants in Contra Costa and Alameda counties between September and March, nearly 60 percent are Democrats. Republicans claimed just 11 percent of new registrants, and about one-quarter are independents.

"I think it's a function of what's happening in the nation, not necessarily a function of what's happening in Pleasanton," said Pleasanton Mayor Jennifer Hostermand, a Democrat.

The Democrats have a "really great campaign guy who pushes people to be Democrats, and he's called George Bush," said Tri-Valley Democratic Club President Ellis Goldberg. "I've personally been in discussions with people about the (Iraq) war, and they say, 'I have had enough!' and I run out to my car and get a voter registration form."

Democrats such as Goldberg want to retake the White House after "eight years of a Republican president, and it trickles down," said San Ramon Mayor Abram AdvertisementWilson, one of four Republican candidates on the June 3 primary for the state Assembly in District 15. "The Democrats are galvanized, just like the Republicans were in 2000 after eight years of (President Bill) Clinton."

Wilson has reason to worry: The voters' shift doesn't bode well for the Republican who wins the chance in the June 3 primary to compete in the November general election for the Bay Area's only remaining GOP-held seat in the Legislature.

A favorable climate for Democrats has helped the party overtake Republicans in Assembly District 15 in the past several months, a sign that the GOP may have trouble holding the seat in November. The district stretches from Walnut Creek through the San Ramon Valley and includes portions of eastern Contra Costa County and the Central Valley.

The trend also could boost the re-election hopes of freshman Rep. Jerry McNerney, a Pleasanton Democrat whose once solid GOP congressional district is trending blue. The Republicans' registration advantage was 9 percentage points seven years ago but is now less than 3 points.

An analysis of voter registration between 1999 and April in East Bay cities revealed:

The Democrats' lead in each of the four cities that flipped is narrow, less than 2 percentage points. But Pleasanton, Moraga and San Ramon were strong GOP cities eight years ago.

While still GOP cities, Clayton and Danville have lost serious market share. Clayton's advantage has narrowed from 10.5 percentage points to 4.5 points. Danville's 23-point GOP advantage is now 12.5 percent.

Other East Bay cities that have moved from a Republican to Democratic registration lead since 1999 are Walnut Creek in 2002, Lafayette and Orinda in 2005, and Brentwood in 2006.

Every East Bay city and both counties saw an increase of decline-to-state — also referred to as independent — voters of from 3 to 10 percentage points. Statewide, the percentage of independent voters grew from 13 to 19.

Although both parties have lost voters to independents since 1999, East Bay Democrats have fared far better than Republicans, widening their registration advantage over the GOP by 54 percent to 21 percent.

The Democrats' gains in East Bay suburban cities are not reflected statewide, however.

The Democrats' lead in California over Republicans declined about 1 percentage point between 1999 and April as both parties lost members to the independents.

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