Election 2018: Orange County GOP Battles An Increasingly Blue Electorate

While Orange County Republicans face the prospect of losing at least two local congressional seats as late tallies continue, the Democratic wave behind the swing has been building for 28 years.

In 1990, the county GOP’s 22-percentage point voter-registration advantage over Democrats marked an apex in one of the party’s most famous strongholds nationwide. That edge has been steadily shrinking since and is now a negligible 1.2 points.

  • Former Huntington Beach Mayor, Matthew Harper (right) watches returns with friends during the OC GOP’s election night party Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018 in Newport Beach. (Photo by Michael Fernandez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Fred Whitaker, Chairman of the Orange County Republican Party (center) speaks to a crowd of people watching election returns on TV during the OC GOP’s election night party Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018 in Newport Beach. (Photo by Michael Fernandez, Contributing Photographer)

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  • Gesturing at the TV, Bentley Fierro of Dana Point is suprised that “No on 6” passed during the OC GOP’s election night party Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018 in Newport Beach. (Photo by Michael Fernandez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Self described “Trump girl,” Ann Gillespie claps for Republican returns on the TV as she and her partner, Eddie Rose of Laguna Niguel attend the OC GOP’s election night party Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018 in Newport Beach. (Photo by Michael Fernandez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Johnny Schoenberger(8) and his brother Maxwell (7) of San Clemente watch video games during the OC GOP’s election night party Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018 in Newport Beach. Their mother Dawn said the boys have been to over 100 political events in their lifetime. (Photo by Michael Fernandez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Fred Whitaker, Chairman of the Orange County Republican Party speaks to a crowd of people watching election returns on TV during the OC GOP’s election night party Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018 in Newport Beach. (Photo by Michael Fernandez, Contributing Photographer)

  • Former Huntington Beach Mayor, Matthew Harper watches election results alone during the OC GOP’s election night party Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018 in Newport Beach. (Photo by Michael Fernandez, Contributing Photographer)

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Fred Whitaker, chairman of the county GOP, acknowledged Democrats’ momentum in an interview at his party’s election night fete Tuesday. He said Democrats spent more money, turned out their voters in key areas and successfully focused their message.

“We’re going to have to make adjustments,” Whitaker said. “Certainly, some of the demographics have changed and we’re adjusting to reflect that.”

The county’s Latino voters, who now prefer the Democratic Party by 35 points, have grown to 20 percent of the electorate and continue to expand their base, according to Political Data Inc. The county’s Asian voters, once a reliable GOP vote, saw their registration swing in favor of Democrats earlier this year.

Whitaker pointed to the broad margins of victory Tuesday by congressional candidate Young Kim and incumbent state Sen. Janet Nguyen, both Asian Republicans, as indications that the party has begun adapting.

But Orange County’s trends go beyond ethnicity. The county’s young voters have flipped from dark red to deep blue. The cohort that once overwhelming favored Republicans now prefers the Democratic Party by a nearly 2-1 margin, according to Political Data Inc.

On the other hand, county Democrats have yet to fully take advantage of their growing strength in voter registration, allowing much of the Republican bedrock of the county to remain intact.

Republicans were leading among Orange County voters in the five statewide races with GOP candidates although the Democrats were ahead in state tallies. That included GOP gubernatorial candidate John Cox, who was leading Democrat Gavin Newsom by 7-percentage points in the county. Additionally, the GOP has continued to hold a disproportionate share of city and school district posts, and is poised to retain all countywide elected offices.

Democrats’ glee

But the changing tide is more than enough to rouse Democrats’ enthusiasm.

“The mere idea of Orange County turning purple, turning blue makes my head spin,” said Rep. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana. “To finally see it happen is unbelievable.”

In 1996, when Correa first ran for office — an unsuccessful bid for state Assembly — Republicans held every congressional, state legislative and county Board of Supervisors seat. He’s since helped lead Democrats’ incursion, winning election to the Assembly in 1998, to the Board of Supervisors in 2004, to the state Senate in 2006 and to Congress in 2016.

Democrats now hold two of the county’s congressional seats and mounted strong bids for the other four.

Democrat Mike Levin, who has declared victory, was leading Republican Diane Harkey on Wednesday evening for the seat of retiring Rep. Darrell Issa, R- Vista, in the district straddling the Orange-San Diego county line. In coastal Orange County,  Democrat Harley Rouda maintained a narrow lead over 15-term Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Costa Mesa.

In a district that extends from Laguna Hills to Anaheim Hills, GOP Rep. Mimi Walters was leading Democratic challenger Katie Porter. And in a district that includes parts of Orange, Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties, Republican Young Kim held a small lead over Democrat Gil Cisneros for the seat of retiring Rep. Ed Royce, R-Fullerton.

Key trends

Opposition to President Donald Trump fueled many Democratic candidates and activists this election — and it may have also helped accelerate momentum toward the tipping point where Democratic voters overtake Republicans in what the local GOP long dubbed “America’s Most Republican County.”

Here are the county’s key voter-registration trends driving that transformation:

  • Democrats have closed the gap by holding its voter share while GOP’s older voters die and are replaced on the rolls by young, independent voters — and to a lesser extent, by Republicans re-registering as independents. In 1990, Republicans edge over Democrats was 56 percent to 34 percent. Today, it’s 34.7 percent to 33.5 percent.
  • As recently as 2002, voters under 34 favored the GOP 42 percent to 29 percent. Today, people of that age favor Democrats 38 percent to 20 percent. Voters ages 35 to 44 also favor Democrats. Voters 44 and older prefer the GOP, with the Republican advantage biggest among those over 70.
  • In 2002, Latinos were 18 percent of registered voters and favored Democrats over Republicans 53 percent to 28 percent. Today, they are 20 percent of voters and prefer Democrats 52 percent to 17 percent.
  • In 2002, Asians were 9 percent of registered voters and favored Republicans 40 percent to 31 percent. Now they are 15 percent of voters and prefer Democrats 30 percent to 29 percent. While Republicans still have the edge among Vietnamese, Democrats are more popular among East Indians, Filipinos and Koreans. Chinese and Japanese are almost evenly divided.

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Source : https://www.ocregister.com/2018/11/06/election-2018-orange-county-gop-battles-an-increasingly-blue-electorate/

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