Onetime GOP stronghold in California now has more Democrats than Republicans

Onetime GOP stronghold in California now has more Democrats than Republicans
© Greg Nash

Orange County, Calif., a longtime Republican stronghold in the typically liberal state, officially has more registered Democrats than Republicans as the GOP’s fears about its standing in the nation’s suburbs mount.

The county, where former President Nixon is buried and former President Reagan’s conservatism first gained traction, is home to 547,458 registered Democrats and 547,369 Republicans, according to statistics released Wednesday morning by the county Registrar of Voters.

The county also has 440,770 unaligned voters, who make up 27.4 percent of its overall voters. 

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Though Wednesday’s news was alarming to state and national Republicans, the GOP’s dam against a rising Democratic wave has showed cracks for years.

Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonFBI head rejects claims of Ukrainian 2016 interference Comey in op-ed after IG report: 'Barr needs to stop acting like a Trump spokesperson' Trump tops list of most tweeted about politicians in 2019 MORE bested President TrumpDonald John TrumpLawmakers release defense bill with parental leave-for-Space-Force deal House Democrats expected to unveil articles of impeachment Tuesday Houston police chief excoriates McConnell, Cornyn and Cruz on gun violence MORE in Orange County by 5 points in 2016, and Democrats ousted four Republican House members representing the county in the 2018 midterms. 

“We owe this to the local college student who knocked on doors, the single mom who phone-banked, and the retired senior who volunteered to register voters; because of all of their hard work we now have more voices from all backgrounds included in our democratic process than ever before,” Rep. Katie Porter (D), who flipped one of those four seats, said in a statement.

“We welcome this news as we continue to build on the progress of last year. We must keep the pressure up as we fight to solidify these gains in 2020 and keep Orange County blue.”

Democrats say the shift in Orange County is driven in part by changing demographics and an aversion to Trump’s rhetoric. 

“Trump’s toxic rhetoric and exclusionary policies alienate women, millennials, suburban voters, immigrants and people of color — critical components of the electorate in Orange County,” Katerina Ioannides, chairwoman of the Orange County Young Democrats, told the Los Angeles Times.

“The Republican Party’s platform no longer resonates in a rapidly diversifying, increasingly college-educated Orange County.”

The shift in Orange County is emblematic of a wider trend Republicans face across the country, with the GOP suffering a drubbing in the 2018 midterms, losing several suburban seats and ultimately the House majority.

Once a rural area, the California county became a suburban haven for expatriates from Los Angeles as well as Midwesterners, and a hotspot for workers in the aerospace and defense industries.

With shifting demographics and rising education rates, the conservatism that was characterized by a litany of John Birch Society chapters that appealed to Republican-leaning moderates grew out of favor amid a time of hyperpartisanship. 

“It was never a question of whether or not you would win Orange County,” former GOP strategist Reed Galen told the Los Angeles Times of counting on the county during campaigns for President George W. Bush and former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. “The idea that you could lose it wasn’t even on the books.” 

“If it can happen in Orange County, it can happen anywhere,” added Ada Briceño, chairwoman of the Orange County Democratic Party, in a statement. “This is a lesson not to dismiss historically Republican-dominated areas, but to dig in deeper and engage with people, especially those who have never been engaged in our political process.”