SACRAMENTO, Calif. — At the start of the year, California Republicans made a strategic decision to focus their limited money and campaign networks on a handful of state legislative races to block Democrats from gaining a supermajority and build a farm team for the future.
It paid off Tuesday when the minority party protected their most competitive legislative races while ousting incumbent Democrats, the first time that had happened in 20 years.
The gains prevented Democrats from regaining supermajority status in the 40-member Senate and in the 80-member Assembly. A party holding a two-thirds supermajority can raise taxes or override gubernatorial vetoes without support from the minority party.
Republicans secured the 14 seats they needed in the Senate to prevent a supermajority by wresting an open Orange County seat from Democrats. As of Friday, the GOP had picked up the 27 seats needed in the Assembly to block Democrats' two-thirds and held the lead in two other races.
Jim Brulte, the state Republican Party chairman, said blocking Democrats' supermajority will force them to negotiate with Republicans on a few issues. Party leaders interpret their gains as a voter mandate for a balanced Legislature.
"Californians want to see Democrats and Republicans working together to deliver results," Assembly Minority Leader Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto, said. "That is what our caucus intends to do."
Whether the Republican gains this week are lasting will be tested in two years, when an open presidential election is expected to draw far more voters to the polls in a state where Democrats enjoy a 15 percentage point registration advantage. Tuesday's turnout is expected to be a record low for a California general election.
The Republicans' wins in the Legislature already have prompted Democrats to recalibrate.
Democrats said they did all they could to get voters to the polls, despite a lack of enthusiasm on their side and corruption scandals that tainted the party in the Legislature. They spent money on campaign ads, organized precinct walks and even used Gov. Jerry Brown's image on door hangers in pivotal races.
But as in most of the country, their core voters sat out this election cycle.
"I am not sure what we could have done more, but we are going to evaluate that," Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, said the day after election.
Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, said Democrats continue to hold a strong majority of the 120 legislative seats in the Assembly and Senate. He said that power will enable his caucus to push an agenda focused on economic growth, job creation, climate change and higher education.
During the last session, Democrats captured supermajorities in both chambers, relegating Republicans to the sideline. The minority party has also been left out of budget negotiations since passage of the annual spending plan was changed to a simple majority vote a few years ago.
Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, said his party focused this year on rebuilding its team by grooming a diverse field of candidates who would be compatible with their districts. In doing so, the Republicans added more women and minorities to their roster.
After a vicious campaign with heavy outside spending from labor and business groups, Orange County Supervisor Janet Nguyen won 60 percent support in the 34th Senate District over former Assemblyman Jose Solorio. She becomes the first Vietnamese-American woman elected to the Legislature.
In the Assembly, Diamond Bar City Councilwoman Ling-Ling Chang will become the first Taiwanese-American Republican woman to join the chamber after defeating social worker Gregg Fritchle in the 55th district. And Young Kim, a congressional aide, is the first Korean-American Republican to be elected to the Assembly after ousting Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva in the 65th district.
GOP candidate Catharine Baker defeated Democrat Tim Sbranti, giving Republicans a rare foothold in the eastern San Francisco Bay Area's 16th Assembly District. Democratic incumbent Al Muratsuchi trailed Republican challenger David Hadley in the 66th Assembly District along coastal Los Angeles County.