The Blue Wave in Orange
Orange County, Calif. holds the key in the 2018 Midterm election
Orange County, California has been discussed as one of the keys needed by Democrats to unlock the Republican majority in Congress with four “toss-up” congressional seats in play. In order for this to happen, and to win these seats, voting patterns by key demographics for Democrats will need to defy historical trends. So far, with early absentee data available, Democrats seem to be stuck in the past at this point.
In 1981, seven months after becoming president of the United States of America, Ronald Reagan stated that Orange County, California is “where the Republicans go before they die.” Nearly four years later Reagan beat his Democratic opponent Walter Mondale by a margin of 73- to-24 percent in Orange County. One of the largest margins in any county in the country. At the time the ethnic makeup was 78.2 percent White, 14.8 percent Hispanic and 4.5 percent Asian. Republicans held a 20 percent advantage over Democrats in voter registration. The Orange County Republican Party bragged that it was “the most Republican county in the country.”
Orange County was once a sleepy, rural enclave 35 miles southeast of Los Angeles, consisting of orange groves (hence the name), strawberry fields, oil wells and a scattering of small neighborhoods. At the onset of World War II, the open space and proximity to the ports of Los Angeles made Orange County the prime location for military bases servicing the needs of the war effort in the Pacific. At the end of the war many service members sought to remain, creating a demand for housing. That demand was met as developers bought up cheap farmland from local farmers, and Orange County began its transition from rural to suburban.
In 1953 an enterprising, entertainment entrepreneur purchased 160 acres of orange groves and farmland in the city of Anaheim, the heart of Orange County. Two years and 17 million dollars later Walt Disney opened Disneyland.
Much has changed between then and now.
Today Republicans hold a mere 1.5 percent voter registration advantage over Democrats; Whites are a minority at 41 percent of the population; Hispanics 35 percent and Asians 20 percent. In November 2016, Hillary Clinton bested Donald Trump in Orange County by more than 100,000 votes – making it the first time a Democrat had won here since 1936. Anyone who voted in that election would now be over 100 years old.
There has been much talk by pundits and the media of a “Blue Wave” sweeping the country, and with it control of the House of Representatives by Democrats. Indeed early polling shows a real likelihood that this could happen: Democrats need a net gain of 23 seats to win a majority, and for the first time in recent history, four of the targeted seats are in Orange County, which are held by Republicans and are traditionally Republican strongholds. It’s expected that upwards of $40 million will be spent in the combined races — more than Orange County native Richard Nixon spent in all 50 states to win the presidency.
The 39th Congressional district has become an open seat due to the retirement of Congressman Ed Royce. Running on the Republican side is longtime Royce aide and former state assemblywoman Young Kim. If elected, she would be the first Korean-American woman elected to the house. Her Democratic opponent, Gil Cisneros, a Latino, is a former Republican who spent 11 years in the U.S. Navy and became a philanthropist after winning 266 million dollars in the lottery. Republicans have a 4 percent registration advantage in the district; however, the latest public polling shows Democrat Cisneros with a slight 1 percent lead.
The 45th Congressional district is currently represented by Congresswoman Mimi Walters. Her opponent, Democrat Katie Porter, is a consumer protection attorney This is her first run for public office. The latest public polling gives Porter a slight advantage, but Walters was re-elected two years ago by a margin of nearly 17 percent even as Trump fell to Clinton in the districts by 5 percent.
Longtime Congressman Dana Rohrabacher represents the 48th district. Rohrabacher is a staunch defender of President Trump and because of his ties to Russia has been dubbed by many as “Putin’s favorite Congressman.” In 2016 Rohrabacher easily defeated his Democratic opponent by 17 percent. Clinton won the district by 1.7 percent, the slimmest margin of the four contested races. The latest polling has his Democratic opponent, businessman Harley Rouda, locked in a dead heat with Rohrabacher.
The retirement of Republican Congressman Darrell Issa has created a vacancy in the 49th district. The states highest ranking female Republican, Board of Equalization member Dianne Harkey, is running against Democrat and environmental attorney Mark Levin. Levin is the former executive director of the Orange County Democratic party and the latest public polling, which is thirty days old, has him up 14 percent on Harkey. Hillary Clinton won this district by 7.5 percent.
The public polling that is available in these districts — somewhat dated, keep in mind — justifies the fact that the Democratic National Congressional Committee is pulling no stops when it comes to funding these campaigns. And since the election of Trump we’ve seen a sharp increase in vocal and practical activism among the left in Orange County. But in order to be successful, Democrats will need to activate women, Latinos and younger voters.
“He’s pissed off the wrong demographic,” says 59-year-old Vicki as she checks volunteers in at the Katie Porter campaign headquarters. She says: “I’ve always been a Democrat and voted, but I’ve never been actively involved. But when the tape of Trump came out, with the pussy-grabbing comment, that was it. I knew I had to actively do something to affect change.”
Vicki is a retired non-profit executive and has been spending most of her days volunteering to help get Porter elected. Dozens of volunteers, wearing homemade parkas cut from plastic trash bags, lined up in the rain as Schulte handed out neighborhood precinct kits for the volunteers to go door-to-door handing out campaign literature.
Fullerton California is the heart of the 39th district. Juan and Romualda sit with their 23-year-old daughter Elizabeth on their front porch overlooking a crisp lawn that proudly displays a Gill Cisneros sign. When asked about the sign, daughter Elizabeth says, “ Yeah, some dude came by and asked if we would put it there. I guess we’re voting for him. He’s the Democrat.” Juan and his wife seemed somewhat disinterested until I asked their thoughts on Trump.
“F**k that guy. He’s doing everything he can to take everything away from us. Don’t even talk about him.” Juan spits out, suddenly becoming quite animated as Romualda shakes her head.
I spoke with several college students up the road outside of a coffee shop across from Cal State Fullerton; however they were more interested in their iPhones and boba teas than discussing the upcoming election or whether or not they planned on voting.
These are three key constituencies for the Democrats that will need to over perform in order to achieve victory.
Past election results show us that women, minorities and 18–34-year-olds tend to under-perform at the polls compared to their share of registration in Orange County. Meanwhile white, middle-aged men have a higher propensity for voting.
Matthew, a newly independent voter, lives in Villa Park, a small, wealthy enclave in the 45th district. Villa Park is 73 percent White, 15 percent Asian and 10 percent Latino. The median household income is $140,000 per year and the average home price is well over $1 million. Fifty-one-year-old Matthew, as a Republican, voted for Trump in 2016 but then changed party registration after the election.
“While I support a lot of his ideas and policies, he’s just an embarrassment. Always shooting off his mouth about stupid things that end up hurting Republicans, like making fun of that lady that accused Judge Kavanaugh. That was dumb, he’d already won.”
Matthew intends to vote for Mimi Walters in spite of his feelings towards Trump.
“I’ll always vote Republican. I just didn’t want to be associated anymore, and if someone challenges the guy (Trump) in a primary I’d be open to voting for them depending on who it is, but if it came down to Trump versus a Democrat, I’d probably have to suck it up and vote for Trump again.”
While passions seemed to be stirred on both sides of the aisle, the question is which sides passions will be stirred enough to motivate them to actually vote in November.
We are beginning to see some evidence that indicates voter intensity for the election.
Paul Mitchell of Political Data Inc., an expert on voter trends and turnout in California has been tracking absentee ballot returns in the county through his General Election AV Tracker where you can get a daily breakdown in each district of who has returned their vote at home ballots. An early sign of voter intensity.
“Democrats need to have an atypical election turnout in order to win in any of these districts in Orange County and I don’t know if it’s time to sound the alarm, there’s a lot of time left, but the current turnout has key voters for Republicans over performing and key Democrat demographics underperforming. Which is typical for Orange County.”
For example: There have been approximately 60,000 ballots returned so far. Of those, 47 percent are Republicans and 31 percent are Democrats; 18–34-year-olds make up 25 percent of the voting share, yet only 7 percent of returned ballots. Meanwhile, 65-and-older voters make up 27 percent of ballots issued, but 52 percent of the ballots that have been returned. Whites are over performing by 15 percent; Latinos under by 10 percent. Men are over performing by 7 percent and women under by 4 percent.
These returns are typical of past elections and unless there is a drastic change to atypical, the “Blue Wave” will be stopping short of the Orange County border.
Follow Jimmy Camp on Twitter @JimmyCamp1