Orange County Is Reagan Country No More
The midterm elections contain a wealth of bad news for Republicans. Who is voting Republican and who isn't? Perhaps more importantly, the question should be: who used to vote Republican?
They used to vote Republican in huge numbers in Orange County, California. The county used to be one of the most Republican in the country, but with Democrat Katie Porter unseating GOP incumbent Rep. Mimi Walters, Republicans are beginning to look nervously at 2020 and wonder where all their votes have gone.
Porter’s upset in Orange County is a sign of changing times in a region once known nationally as a GOP fortress. The coastal county southeast of Los Angeles was home to President Richard Nixon, and President Ronald Reagan once likened it to a Republican heaven.
Porter, a law professor and protege of Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren, defeated Republican Rep. Mimi Walters, who was re-elected in a walkover just two years ago in the 45th District. The latest update to the vote count gave Porter 51 percent and a 6,203-vote lead.
Porter, 44, campaigned on an unabashed liberal agenda and in direct opposition to President Donald Trump’s priorities: She advocates overturning his tax reform package, supports universal health care, and endorses mandatory background checks on all gun sales and a ban on so-called assault-style weapons.
She said she was running “to hold Donald Trump and the powerful special interests in Washington accountable.”
Generally speaking, the entire state of California has been a disaster for Republicans.
With Walters’ loss to newcomer Katie Porter, Democrats will hold a 44-9 edge in U.S. House seats, with another Orange County GOP seat in peril. The county was once home to President Richard Nixon and was considered a foundation of the modern conservative movement, gaining the moniker “Reagan country.”
Democrats are on track to hold every statewide office — again. And there wasn’t even a Republican on the ballot for U.S. Senate.
“The California Republican Party isn’t salvageable at this time,” concluded Kristin Olsen, a former Republican leader in the state Assembly.
“The Grand Old Party is dead — partly because it has failed to separate itself from today’s toxic, national brand of Republican politics,” she wrote in a column on the website CALmatters.
Shawn Steel, one of California’s two Republican National Committee members, said the state party has “reached the point of desperation.”
So, California is blue, no big deal, right? It's where the GOP losses occurred that is so worrisome.
Along with her loss in Orange County, 15-term Rep. Dana Rohrabacher was ousted from his nearby district. The seat held by retiring Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, which cuts across the southern part of the county, was taken by Democrat Mike Levin, an environmental attorney.
The 39th District, anchored in the northern part of the county, remains undecided in a contest between Republican Young Kim and Democrat Gil Cisneros. In returns Friday, Cisneros extended his lead to about 3,000 votes in a district held by retiring Republican Rep. Ed Royce. Thousands of ballots remain uncounted.
Meanwhile, Democrat Josh Harder seized the seat of Republican Rep. Jeff Denham in the farm belt, while Democrat Katie Hill took Republican Rep. Steve Knight’s seat north of Los Angeles.
Clearly, President Donald Trump was a factor.
Trump was a factor as were changing demographics. But questions for Republicans run a lot deeper than what happened in California. The entire GOP landscape across the country is undergoing a seismic shift. Suburban voters -- once a source of tremendous strength for the GOP -- are abandoning the party in droves. The same holds true for much of the Midwest, where the term "rock-ribbed Republican" was born.
Looking at the GOP today, we see a party strong in the upper and lower South and mountain West, but becoming increasingly isolated in the Midwest. There are still pockets of Republican strength in rural areas of Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, but those areas are shrinking while Democratic cities, suburbs, and ex-urbs are growing. East of the Alleghenies, it's a Republican wasteland.
Is Trump accelerating the GOP decline? There's no doubt that Trump's antics as president have energized his base. They are, if anything, more loyal and enthusiastic today than they were when he was elected.
The rest of the country? Not so much.
As leader of the party, Trump is responsible for its growth or decline. Right now, it's declining across the board. The answer is not goosing Trump's base supporters. The answer has to be broadening the appeal of the party.
It's an open question whether Trump is capable of doing that.