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Folsom’s Blues: Sliding into swing territory

In the 2020 general election, Sacramento County reached its highest voter participation level (82.6%) since 1964, but outpacing every other part of the county was the City of Folsom with votes by nearly 91% of all registered voters.

But high electoral involvement is nothing new for this bucolic burg known for its historic downtown, dam and prison. One must go back to the 2012 primary for an election when Folsom ranked merely second in the county for turnout. That was when tiny City of Isleton and its 170 registered voters won the turnout title by a few points.

So it’s no exaggeration to call Folsom one of the most electorally engaged parts of Sacramento County. But it’s also one of its most in-flux areas.

Consider that in 2012, U.S. Rep. Ami Bera first flipped the 7th Congressional District blue by 3.4 points to win his first term in Congress. But Folsom proved its GOP reputation with incumbent Republican Dan Lungren winning easily there by 15 points and taking all but one of 45 precincts. Likewise that year, Mitt Romney won all but three Folsom precincts over President Barack Obama.

Flash forward to 2020. Joe Biden not only won Folsom by 7 points and took three-fourths of Folsom’s precincts, but he became the first Democratic presidential candidate to win a clean majority there in decades. Next closest was Hillary Clinton in 2016, who won a plurality at 46.6% to Trump’s 46.1% but not a majority with former Republican governor of New Mexico turned libertarian Gary Johnson receiving 5.8% of Folsom votes.

“Folsom is not as conservative as it was,” said Tony Oliver, a 16-year resident and recent Board member with the Folsom Area Democratic Club. “Folsom has been growing over the last 20 years. When we take a look at the people who have moved here, they tend to skew more Democratic. This includes many young families moving in.”

Then this November, Bera won Folsom for the first time in a general election. It was by a narrower 3 points than Biden. This represented a full reversal of Republican Andrew Grant’s winning margin there in 2018 and was far different than Scott Jones winning 55.4% in 2016.

In addition to local population growth, traditional conservatives have increasingly de-affiliated from today’s GOP. While Folsom’s population grew by 10% over the last decade to 80,700, Republicans lost 12½ points of its registration advantage, and by 2018, the No Party Preference (NPP)/Independent category had gained nearly seven points and currently stands at 30% of all Folsom voters.

Editor’s update (1/15/21): The Aug. 2021 voter registration stats in Folsom continued these trends with GOP registrations dropping to 34.9%, and Democrats rising to 34.6%, or just 120 registrations behind the GOP. Indy/NPP voters were fairly steady at 30.5%

Oliver noted that for all of Trump’s boasts about turning out a “silent majority,” this probably boomeranged in an area like Folsom.

“The element that Trump has brought into the [GOP] is anything but silent or quiet. You saw that in Folsom in ways I don’t recall before,” he said. “They were certainly loud and proud and exercising the right to free speech, but it was an in-your-face-approach that certainly turned a lot of folks off.”

However all is not rosy for those whose politics run blue. Further down the November ballot, incumbent State Assemblyman Kevin Kiley received 55% of the Folsom vote, and State Senator Brian Dahle won his first term with his 54% in Folsom contributing to an overall 60% total throughout the 1st Senate District.

Taken together, this makes Folsom a classic swing area to watch. An interesting dynamic to watch is how federal redistricting later this year affects the city. California is expected to lose at least one U.S. House seat, but it could lose two or maybe three depending on how litigation goes on Trump’s efforts to exclude undocumented residents in California’s population total.

Given the increase in population throughout Sacramento County, a possibility exists that to rebalance district populations that Bera’s Congressional district contracts and some or all of Folsom shifts into U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock’s 4th Congressional district.

But too many variables are in play to precisely handicap the possibilities, but it would be ironic that after Folsom’s decade-long slide toward the blue column that it gets absorbed by McClintock’s solidly Republican district. But maybe such a redrawing of lines would be part of what it takes to help push the 4th Congressional District into swing territory.

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