Orange is the new blue: California Democrats sweep 7 House seats in former GOP stronghold
Orange County, California, was mostly white and reliably Republican for decades. Its growing diversity has loosened the GOP's grip, and Democrats aim to take advantage in November. (Oct. 17)
Somewhere, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon and John Wayne are wondering what the heck happened to the place they used to call home.
When Gil Cisneros was declared the winner of the race for the House seat representing California’s 39th Congressional District on Saturday night, the Democrats completed a historic sweep of all seven districts in Orange County, which, until recently, was regarded as a bastion of conservatism.
The area south of Los Angeles was long known as Reagan country, the place the conservative icon said was “where all good Republicans go to die.’’
The largely suburban county, with a population of 3.2 million, was Nixon’s birthplace, and it’s the site of his presidential library.
Its airport is named after Wayne, the legendary movie cowboy who was an avowed and prominent Republican.
And now its will send seven Democrats to the U.S. House, flipping four seats and helping them take control of a legislative chamber that had been in Republican control since 2011.
Democrats needed a net gain of 23 seats to attain majority in the House and they have added 38, putting their lead at 232-200, with three races yet to be decided. In California, the Democratic advantage stands at an overwhelming 45-8.
Democrats had targeted seven Republican-held seats in California that Hillary Clinton won in 2016. They claimed six of those, capitalizing on President Trump’s unpopularity in the state and attacking incumbents who voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act and/or supported the 2017 tax bill, which limited deductions in high-tax states like California.
Cisneros edged out Republican Young Kim after trailing by almost 3,900 votes on Election Night to join Harley Rouda, Katie Porter and Mike Levin as Democratic newcomers to the House from Orange County.
Rouda's victory was especially noteworthy: He defeated 15-term Republican incumbent Dana Rohrabacher.
“In one of the most diverse districts in the country, I learned that, for all of our differences, we all care about the same things,’’ said Cisneros, a Navy veteran turned philanthropist who won a $266 million lottery jackpot in 2010 and has emphasized education in his campaign.
“Most of all, we want to live in a world brought together by hope, not divided by hate.’’
His remarks and the county’s vote appeared to represent a repudiation of Trump and his harsh rhetoric, especially in matters related to immigration. Latinos make up 35 percent of the Orange County population and Asians 21 percent. Non-Hispanic whites account for 40 percent.
The county’s increasingly diverse demographics and changing politics over the past two decades had allowed Democrats to make enough inroads that they entered the election with three incumbents – Linda Sanchez, Lou Correa and Alan Lowenthal, all runaway repeat winners – and to foster dreams of adding to their delegation.
But given the region’s history, not even the most optimistic Democrats could have expected a sweep. This will be the first time since the 1930s that the one-time GOP stronghold won’t have a Republican presence in the House.
“It’s a sign to me that things are going south for Republicans and if they don’t change the way they do things, they’re going to go even further south,’’ longtime GOP strategist Stuart Spencer told the Los Angeles Times. “This election is one hell of a wake-up call for the Republican Party in California.’’