10:00 PM PST on Friday, December 17, 2010

By JIM MILLER
Sacramento Bureau

Last month’s election offered more evidence that Inland Southern California’s politics are anything but set in stone, with the region’s voters swinging from Republican to Democrat and back again in just a few years.

Recently released statements of vote detail how different parts of the Inland area voted Nov. 2. The numbers could give hope — and heartburn — to party activists in Riverside and San Bernardino counties as they look ahead to the 2012 presidential campaign.

For Democrats, last month’s election was a significant setback from 2008, when Democrat Barack Obama carried both counties.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown’s share of the vote trailed Obama’s across much of the region. And Nov. 2 turnout in the Inland areas that propelled Democrats’ success two years ago plummeted.

Yet neither Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman nor U.S. Senate hopeful Carly Fiorina could run up their Inland numbers despite a national GOP wave.

“We kept the margin down,” said Ron Wall, chairman of the San Bernardino County Democratic Central Committee.

Whitman carried San Bernardino County by just 1 percentage point and had a bare majority in Riverside County.

For Republicans, last month’s results put to rest any notion that 2008 pointed to a permanent shift in the region’s politics.

But the GOP also had trouble getting its voters to the polls. That hampered the party’s statewide strategy of relying on the Inland area to help offset Democrats’ strength elsewhere.

“In general, I think the election went quite well. Obviously they hope for a bigger turnout,” Riverside County GOP leader Ken Minesinger said of state party leaders.

Minesinger highlighted the 8-percentage-point increase in support for Rep. Ken Calvert, who lost his district’s Riverside County portion in 2008.

REGION TARGETED

Candidates’ campaigns, both parties and outside groups invested significant resources in the Inland region.

Through September, Whitman’s campaign spent about $2 million on TV and radio ads in Riverside and San Bernardino counties. Whitman made repeated visits to the region.

In addition, the California Republican Party spent at least $450,000 in the past year to increase GOP voter registration in Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

As voting began, it came down to getting Republicans to vote.

Voter turnout in Riverside County was 57.36 percent. In precincts where at least half of voters are registered Republicans, turnout exceeded two-thirds. Whitman averaged 62 percent of the vote in those areas.

In San Bernardino County, turnout in Republican-heavy precincts averaged 66.2 percent, compared to a 55.24 percent countywide rate. Whitman received 62 percent of the vote in those areas, as well.

But election data also suggest that many Republican voters stayed home.

For example, at a 1,453-voter precinct near California Oaks Sports Park in Murrieta, where more than half of the voters are Republicans, Nov. 2 turnout was barely 52 percent.

San Bernardino County GOP chairman Robert Rego said Inland Republican activists did as much as they could.

“It’s a little early to reach any full conclusions yet,” Rego said of the results. But he contrasted Whitman’s Inland margins of victory with the performance of Steve Cooley, the Republican nominee for attorney general, who did much better.

“When you don’t connect with the average voter, regardless of party affiliation, it’s hard to get them to go to the polls for you,” Rego said.

DEMOCRATS’ CAMPAIGNS

Brown and Democratic U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer concentrated their efforts in Democratic strongholds along the coast. Allied groups were active in the Inland region, though.

Labor unions spent heavily on its “Million More Voters” campaign to identify sympathetic voters in parts of the state where there are relatively few union members and local Democratic parties are small.

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