The 2006 midterm elections, held after the successful re-election of President George W. Bush, saw turnover in federal and state races across the country. The election was a wave election in which Democrats regained control of both Houses of Congress, picked up gubernatorial offices, and flipped large numbers of state legislative seats. California, however, bucked the trend.
Incumbent Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican candidate who had won the replacement vote in 2003 when prior Governor Gray Davis was recalled over issues with the power grid, ran for re-election in this Democratic wave environment. This was the second-to-last gubernatorial election to be held without the top-two primary method, which was approved in 2010 during Governor Jerry Brown’s third run for office. Schwarzenegger’s challenger, the Democratic State Treasurer Phil Angelides, was the Democratic party nominee. Other candidates in the race were Green Party candidate Peter Camejo, American Independent candidate Edward Noonan, Libertarian candidate Art Olivier, and Peace & Freedom candidate Janice Jordan.
In the general election, Schwarzenegger won a resounding victory, likely due to his moderation on social and fiscal issues before the campaign. He managed to do this by performing exceptionally well with Whites and Asian-Americans. He also made an impressive showing among African-Americans, Latinos, and mixed-race Americans. It should be noted that State Treasurer Angelides won African-American Californians overwhelmingly and Latinos by around an 11-point margin, but this was not enough to stave off a Schwarzenegger landslide.
This article will look at the election through the Six Californias framework. The first is the proposed state of Jefferson, which is sparsely populated, especially back at the time of 2006, and has been one of the most Republican-leaning regions in California, even as it has trended Democratic. In the 2006 gubernatorial election, the population bases were Butte, Humboldt, Mendocino, and Shasta counties, the same as present day.
|Margin||R +100,933||R +32.83%|
Schwarzenegger carried all the counties located in the region of Jefferson. The counties Angelides performed best in were reliably-Democratic Humboldt and Mendocino, where he received 41.6% and 44.7%, respectively; Schwarzenegger won both counties with less than 50% of the vote.
Schwarzenegger’s strongest county, by contrast, was Glenn County, where he received 76.5% of the vote. He also performed well in population centers like Butte (65.8%) and Shasta (73.9%). Overall, Schwarzenegger’s strong electoral margins allowed him to carry the region of Jefferson by a margin of 100,933 votes and by 32.83%.
The next region is North California. At the time of the 2006 election, it was a more political competitive region that the California Republican Party could do well in. It had not trended quite as Democratic as it is today. In the 2006 California Gubernatorial Election, the population centers were Marin, Placer, Sacramento, Solano, and Sonoma counties.
|Margin||R +267,526||R +23.56%|
Schwarzenegger won all the counties in North California except for the liberal stronghold of Marin County, which he lost to Angelides by 1.9%. All of the interior counties in the region were carried by Schwarzenegger by wide margins, including the future Democratic base of Sacramento County.
Schwarzenegger even won Sonoma County by a 2.43% margin, which was surprising at the time because it was trending Democratic at that time; John Kerry had carried it by a margin of 36.3%. Overall, Schwarzenegger carried the region of North California by 267,526 votes and 23.56% of the vote.
The third region is Silicon Valley, which at the time of the 2006 Gubernatorial Election was an engine of rapid growth in the technological sector before the Great Recession struck in 2008. Although the region was not quite as Democratic as today, it was still a heavily-Democratic part of the state. The population centers in the region of Silicon Valley at this time were Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara.
|Margin||D +83,872||D +4.71%|
When all the votes were counted in the region of Silicon Valley in 2006, it became apparent that State Treasurer Angelides had won a very narrow victory within that region; he carried it by a margin of 83,872 votes, or 4.71%. All of the counties on the upper Northern California coast (San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Cruz) were carried by Angelides, along with Alameda County.
Schwarzenegger, on the other hand, carried the Bay Area suburban enclave of Contra Costa, the San Jose-centered Santa Clara, and the two southernmost counties (Monterey and San Benito).
The fourth region is Central California, which at the time of the election was a relatively sparsely populated and Republican-leaning region. It includes the heavily Hispanic Central Valley, which acts as a moderate swing/battleground region, along with several counties in ski country. The population centers in 2006 were Fresno, Kern, San Joaquin, and Stanislaus Counties. The most Republican-leaning portion of the state, Schwarzenegger carried it by over a 2:1 margin.
|Margin||R +296,469||R +37.49%|
Schwarzenegger carried nearly all the counties in the Central California region with at least 60% of the vote. This would be unthinkable in today’s era due to partisan polarization. This was Schwarzenegger’s best performing region by margin of percentage; he won every county at least 10%. His strongest performance came in the agricultural center of Kern County, where he received over 72% of the vote.
Angelides’s best performing county was Alpine, a liberal ski county that ranks among the least populated in the country. He pulled 40.1% of the vote there. In only one other county, San Joaquin, did he even crack 35% of the vote. Overall, Schwarzenegger carried the Central California region by 296,469 votes, a margin of 37.49%.
The next region that this article will explore is the region of West California, a densely populated coastal region that includes the metropolitan area of Los Angeles. The region in 2006 was known for being a major port city, as well as an economic powerhouse. The region includes Los Angeles, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Ventura Counties, which are all heavily Democratic in today’s polarized era, with the exception of San Luis Obispo, which is open to two-party competition with the right candidate. The population centers of the region are Los Angeles County, with its enormous metropolitan population, Santa Barbara County, with its surfing areas, and Ventura County, with its seaside towns.
|San Luis Obispo||61,842||30,568||4,882||97,292||63.56%||31.42%|
|Margin||R +61,913||R +2.57%|
Despite narrowly losing Los Angeles County, Schwarzenegger was able to narrowly win West California by carrying the three other counties by solid margins. Although the vast majority of votes were cast in Los Angeles County, Schwarzenegger received over 60% of the vote in San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Ventura counties. This was enough to secure a 61,913 vote win – a 2.57% margin of victory.
The final region that this article will explore is the region of South California. The region of South California at the time was a military and economic center, with many military bases in the counties within the region. South California includes Imperial, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego Counties, which have all trended Democratic since this election. In fact, San Diego is the most Democratic in today’s era, but back in 2006, it was more Republican leaning. The population centers of the region are Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego Counties. This was Schwarzenegger’s second-best region by margin of percentage.
|Margin||R +830,456||R +36.80%|
Schwarzenegger won every county in this region, including majority-Hispanic Imperial County. He performed exceptionally well in each of the other counties, pulling over 60% of the vote in each. His strongest performance came in suburban Orange County, where we won nearly 70% of the vote.
Overall, Schwarzenegger carried South California by 830,456 votes – a 36.8% margin, his second-strongest in the state.
When all the votes were counted, Governor Schwarzenegger had won a resounding 1.47 million vote landslide, beating his Democratic rival 55.9%-39.0%. This enabled him to sweep five of the six regions of California, winning in all but the bluest strongholds of Silicon Valley and Los Angeles County.
The win in the 2006 California Gubernatorial race, while impressive, is unlikely to be repeated anytime soon. It is a footnote to another time, when a recall replacement Governor who starts off unpopular can become more popular over time and summon a large mandate in a state as ideologically opposed to his party as California. Republicans have not won a statewide race in California since 2006.
It should also be noted that California was not as Democratic as it is today in 2006; George W. Bush only lost the state by 10 percentage points, compared to the 29-point loss Donald Trump experienced in 2020. It took some time for the Democratic trend to manifest itself in the manner in which political observers see the state today.