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Growing Rancho Cordova gets younger, more Progressive

To hear most Democratic residents of Rancho Cordova explain it, Rancho Cordova is a politically conservative to moderate municipality.

“I think of [Rancho Cordova] as right in the center,” said Tan Ahmad, a Rancho Cordova Progressive of 10 years. “I have neighbors who were open Trump supporters. I also have neighbors who are very open to Progressive dialogue as well. It’s quite diverse.”

Said 55-year-resident Marcia Blount, “I’d say we are probably a little right of middle. I’ve been a cannabis activist since 2013, and I remember when I attended a City Council meeting three years ago. They were very, very anti-cannabis and opposed allowing a cannabis delivery service.”

Blount said since then a delivery service has opened in town. (Two in fact.) So she acknowledged things may be shifting in her hometown. However, both Blount and Ahmad reflect a typical tendency throughout Sacramento County — especially among active Progressives — to presume an electorate to be far more conservative than themselves and in actuality.

Consider that over the last decade, Rancho Cordova has been nowhere near a swing-vote area. Over that time, Democrats have held a solid to significant voter registration advantage. The current voter split in Rancho Cordova is 41% registered Democrats, 31% No Party Preference (NPP)/Independents, and Republicans third at 28%. (Republicans first fell to third in 2016.)

In further bad news for Republicans, this NPP/Independent category has solidly gone Democratic recent cycles. For instance, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden both beat Trump by 14-15 points in Rancho Cordova. This included Clinton and Biden both winning three to four points more of the NPP/Independent vote than Trump.

“Wow, you are telling me stuff I didn’t know,” Blount said. “Maybe the Republicans just make more noise in Rancho Cordova.”

Even down ballot, Democratic candidates for state- and federal-level seats perform strongly here. Since first winning his seat in 2012, Congressman Ami Bera has usually won Rancho Cordova easily, even in his closest races. In 2012, he bested Dan Lungren overall by 3.4 points overall, but Bera won Rancho Cordova by 13½ points. In 2014, he squeaked by to keep his seat by less than 1 point, but won here by nearly 11 points.

Only in 2016 did things narrow somewhat for Bera in Rancho Cordova. That was the year of the campaign finance scandal that sent his then 83-year-old father to jail. Bera held onto his seat by 2.4 points over an equally ethically challenged opponent in Sheriff Scott Jones. But in Rancho Cordova, Bera’s advantage narrowed to a still solid 8 points.

So whether local Democrats realize it, Rancho Cordova is solidly Democratic even when saddled with a candidate scandal. Thus the more interesting question is whether moderates Bera and State Assemblyman Ken Cooley are perhaps too moderate for Rancho Cordova voters.

The only reliable window into this answer comes by examining the March 2020 Democratic Presidential primary. That primary provided particularly ripe data for evaluating the intra-party splits among Democratic factions. Because the nomination process was still very competitive with many candidates to choose from, the combine vote total of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren provide the best estimate ever of the local Progressive base.

This combined vote total is called the S+W benchmark, and Rancho Cordova’s 44.7% S+W puts it not far behind the countywide average of 46%. This last figure includes the City of Sacramento where more than half of Democratic presidential ballots went for either Sanders or Warren.

Rancho Cordova voters were also markedly more engaged in November. Voter turnout this past fall was in fact way up throughout Sacramento County and the nation. However, Rancho Cordova saw an ever higher voter turnout increase than the area average. In 2016, its 64.8% turnout rate was nearly 10 points behind the county average of 74.5%. But in 2020, Rancho Cordova’s 81.1% turnout was just 1½ point off the county average of 82.6%.

The most likely explanation for both the city’s surprisingly high turnout and large vote for Sanders and Warren has been the influx of new, younger residents. In the last four years, this has caused Rancho’s Cordova’s median resident age to decline from 36.1 to 34.5 years.

Peggy Gorman who has lived in Rancho Cordova almost 20 years and has witnessed this shift up close. This includes as a member of the State Democratic Party’s Central Committee and within her own family.

“The Bernie factor is definitely geared toward a younger generation. That’s who he really went after. My [38-year-old] son was for Bernie. I love Bernie, but I never wanted him for president. I was for Biden 100%, and I think that reflects an age factor,” said Gorman.

Because Democrats’ share of local voter registration has stayed steady at 41% over the last decade, this suggests a fair amount of these Progressive votes exist in the NPP/Independent category. Ahmad said this aligns with his experience talking with younger local voters.

“They seem to not be registering Democratic. They are no party preference, but voting for Democrats in elections,” Ahmad said. “When I talk to them, I bring up the JFK Democratic Club and Wellstone [Progressives of Sacramento County], but those are harder sells. The [Democratic Socialists of America] seems to be attracting the most interest among younger people.”

“But overall, I’m very optimistic about these trends in terms of being able to make the sort of positive change that I would typically push for,” he said.

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