How Santa Clara County Republicans Lost Their Grip

By Maddon Hoh-Choi

Photo by Parsing Eye on Unsplash

Santa Clara County, located in the heart of Silicon Valley, had traditionally been a Republican stronghold throughout the 20th century. However, in recent years the county has seen a shift towards the Democratic Party, leading to the loss of Republican control at all levels of government.

Historically, Republicans held a majority of elected offices and a significant presence in local politics. Nonetheless, the county’s population has grown rapidly in recent decades, with a significant influx of liberal-leaning tech workers moving in from the Bay Area and other parts of the country.

In the 2022 midterm elections, Democrats made significant gains in Santa Clara County, winning all of the county’s congressional and state legislative seats and flipping the last Republican-held Board of Supervisors seat. In addition, the Republican-endorsed candidate for Sheriff was bested by just a little more than 7,000 votes. Governor Gavin Newsom won 70% of the countywide vote.

One of the key factors in the Democratic Party’s success in Santa Clara County is the growing diversity of the population. The county’s Latino and Asian American populations have grown significantly in recent years, and these groups have traditionally leaned towards the Democratic Party. Additionally, college-educated suburbanites nationwide have trended toward the Democrats, which has been a boon for the Dems in the tech-worker hub of the country.

Another factor that has contributed to the Republican Party’s decline in Santa Clara County is the changing political landscape of the state of California overall. Statewide politics has become increasingly liberal in recent years, with the Democratic Party holding a strong majority in the state legislature and all statewide offices. Republicans have not won a Presidential election in California since 1988, and haven’t even won Santa Clara County since Reagan. This has made it increasingly difficult for Republicans to get resources and funding to compete in statewide elections, especially those in Santa Clara County.

Nevertheless, the party seems to hold hope for its future. When I talked with him last year, SVGOP Chairman Shane Patrick Connolly noted that, though Republicans are the minority party in Santa Clara, they have made gains with San Jose’s working-class AAPI and Latino communities in recent years.

In the interview, he lamented the fact that local and state legislative GOP candidates being “tarred as extremists” has led to continued losses in the county. He also distanced his party from the failed recall attempt in 2021, saying it was a “grassroots effort.” Moreover, he noted that moderate Republicans have found success in other suburban areas of the country, like Maryland and Massachusetts. Connolly predicts that there will be a Republican Governor of California sometime in the future.

Without the GOP being a significant factor in county politics, elections have become increasingly decided between opposing factions of business and labor within the Democratic party. The “Grand Old Party” will likely be relegated to increasingly more local politics — especially the elections for nonpartisan city councils and school boards.

Can they make a comeback sometime in the future? Only time with tell.