Tides change for historically red Orange County, California

Democrats lead in 5 of 7 congressional elections with other races too close to call

Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (Gage Skidmore)

Once considered a formidable Republican stronghold, Orange County is now poised to take the majority of  3 million residents represented by Democrats as the results of the 2018 congressional midterm elections trickle in.

One of the most hotly contested districts is California’s 48th district, which spans the coast from Seal Beach to Aliso Viejo, an area long-held in GOP control by staunch conservative Dana Rohrabacher. A former speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan and 15-term congressman, Rohrabacher has come under fire for his pro-Russia policies, as well as controversial comments he made advocating for the ability to discriminate against prospective homebuyers based on their sexual orientation.

His challenger, Democrat Harley Rouda, a former republican and real estate developer, declared victory over his opponent in a Saturday news release followed by the Associated Press calling the election in Rouda’s favor. Rohrabacher has yet to concede.

“I think it’s about time for younger people’s voices to be heard,” says Brian Little, Laguna Niguel resident, student at Saddleback College and a participant in the 2018 midterms. “I mean the guy [Rohrabacher] openly supports Russia, which most of us disagree with. I don’t feel like he represents me at all. I have never voted straight ticket for a party until this election.”

Another up-for-grabs race, California’s 45th district between Republican incumbent Mimi Walters and her Democratic challenger Katie Porter, a law professor at University of California, Irvine. The 45th district encompasses much of central Orange County including Irvine, Tustin, Orange, Laguna Hills, Laguna Woods, Lake Forest, Rancho Santa Margarita, Mission Viejo, and Coto de Caza.

Walters started election day with a lead over Porter, but as results come in that lead has been steadily slimming. In just three days Walters’ lead has shrunk from over 6,000 votes to just 1,011 as of Tuesday morning, making the race a 0.4% difference in favor of Walters. Tuesday night’s count saw Katie Porter take the lead, ahead by 261 votes.

Officials from the Republican Party of Orange County, the Orange County Young Republicans, Aliso Viejo Republican Women’s Federation, College Republicans of UCI and the Saddleback Chapter for the Young America’s Foundation, a conservative organization, were not available for comment.

California voting laws allow and receive mail in ballots if dropped off at a polling place or postmarked by the day of the election. Many of the congressional races, like the 45th district, are still too close to call with the Orange County Registrar’s office estimating 302,895 ballots left to count. Included in that number are an estimated 160,000 provisional ballots which are given on election day to record a vote, but needs verification before approved for the vote to count. Late voting historically favors Democrats in Orange County.

Voter registration records from the California Secretary of State’s office show that the number of registered Republican voters is in a slow decline, but they still hold the majority of registered voters within the county.

Even with such close elections, chances of a recount are very rare. Any registered voter can request a recount, but must come up with the money for the cost of the recount each day the recount continues.

Inklings of change in historical voting patterns first came in the 2016 presidential election when Democrat Hillary Clinton earned the popular vote over Donald Trump marking the first time since 1936 that Orange County voters have chosen a Democratic candidate over a Republican. That election saw Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt beat out his Republican challenger for the White House.

John Harpster, born in Orange County in 1948, raised in Santa Ana, then strongly conservative, right-wing community composed of many veterans who recently returned from WWII. Harpster says, “the large military presence, a strongly religious atmosphere and a heavy corporate influence as large companies began headquarters here in the mid 20th century shaped Orange County in to the conservative haven that gave birth to the likes of Presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.”

“All of this new blood and diversity is changing the county and the way it votes. It makes me happy to see change. The people who were voted out needed to be voted out and the people decided that. Change is good.”  says Harpster.

Results are estimated to continue trickling in for the next two weeks, leaving much uncertain until final tallies are totaled.