Orange County is a Republican stronghold no more.
The county is now home to 547,458 registered Democrats, compared with 547,369 Republicans, according to statistics released Wednesday by the county Registrar of Voters. The number of voters not aligned with a political party has surged in recent years, now at 440,771, or 27.4% of the county’s voters.
Democratic leaders attributed the shift to changing demographics, aggressive recruitment efforts and President Donald Trump.
“There’s definitely a Trump effect,” Orange County Democratic Chairwoman Ada Briceno told City News Service. “We saw a huge surge of women (registering) after the Women’s March. … When they saw a president degrade women I think that was a big one for them. Also, climate change is a big deal. We need to protect our coastlines and that’s a big issue for folks. That’s one of the issues that have moved them.”
Despite the numbers, Orange County GOP Chairman Fred Whitaker said he still believes the county remains conservative.
“Orange County is still a conservative county, but it’s now a purple county,” Whitaker said. “It’s now a fight for the No Party Preference voters who have grown exponentially throughout the state recently, and Orange County isn’t immune to that trend. It just hit us later than the rest of the state.”
Whitaker argued that voter registration increases for Democrats in the county since 2006 “has only shifted by 5 percent.” He doubted voters were “running to embrace the Democrat Party. In terms of 2020 their gains have not been in competitive districts for the next (election) cycle. We still hold voter registration advantages in the seats we are focused on for the next election.”
Whitaker said the party “maintained a 2-to-1 advantage in holding elected offices throughout the county” last year.
“We are going to focus on winning the votes of (no-party preference) voters and gaining their support and their registration in the long term. We are going to fight for our county,” he said.
Shawn Steel, Republican national committeeman for California, blamed the GOP decline on the large increase in the number of voters who register with no party preference, and on Republicans leaving the state because of high housing costs, poor schools and lackluster job opportunities.
“We have a tremendous outflow of people leaving California. We’ve been an out-migration state for 20 years, and that’s particularly acute in the suburbs,” said the Seal Beach resident, who predicted the tide would turn because of overreach by the Democratic politicians who control every arm of state government. “There is an opportunity as Democrats get more aggressive in Sacramento and alienate more people.”
But Democrats gaining an edge over Republicans is a watershed moment for a place that has long been a citadel of GOP strength and one that could have national implications for the future of the Republican Party if similar shifts occur in other parts of the country.
The last time Democrats had an edge in voter registration was a brief moment in the 1970s following President Richard Nixon’s resignation as he was threatened with impeachment, Briceno said.
In the November midterm elections the Democrats won every congressional seat in the county.
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