Photo by John Schreiber.
Photo by John Schreiber.

Orange County for decades was a Republican stronghold, with hard-core conservatives holding political office.

Could that era be over with Tuesday’s election?

Demographic changes in recent years have seen an influx of Democrats coming to power.

The Orange County Registrar of Voters counts 581,941 Republicans and 523,416 Democrats. The next highest number is for voters who do not identify with a party — 369,108.

Most of the last-minute registrations, 61 percent, came from 6,311 voters in the 18- to 35-year-old range, according to the Orange County Registrar of Voters. The next highest total was 3,176 voters 26 to 35 years old; 2,257 who are 36 to 45; 1,856 in the 46-to-55 range; 1,106 who are 56 to 65 years old and 830 voters who are 66 or older.

UC Irvine political science professor Louis DeSipio said Democrats must pick up three additional seats, two in the Assembly, and one in the Senate, to gain back a supermajority that would keep Republicans from blocking any sort of legislation. So, all eyes will be on the rematch between Assemblywoman Young Kim, who defeated Sharon Quirk-Silva two years ago, in the 65th District.

In the June primary, Quirk-Silva defeated Kim 54.3 percent to 45.7 percent.

The key difference between the last election and this one is who is heading the top of the ticket — the race for president. Democrats don’t turn out as regularly in mid-term elections as they do in presidential contests historically, the professor acknowledged.

“Some of it is also a slow demographic change, so you see a little bit of movement toward Quirk-Silva,” DeSipio said. “Also, the top of the Republican ticket is polarizing (with Donald Trump).”

Trump “alienates” Latino voters, which should help give Quirk-Silva more of an edge, he said.

The GOP in California is a “lost cause, and they recognize it. It’s what the party establishment in Washington fears,” DeSipio said. “California in the `80s and `90s was a competitive state.”

DeSipio also has his eye on the race between Lou Correa and Bao Nguyen, the mayor of Garden Grove, for Congress in the 46th District. Correa was the top vote-getter with 43.7 percent in June with Nguyen coming in second with 14.6 percent. There were six other candidates in the race in June.

DeSipio said he was also interested in seeing how well Rep. Loretta Sanchez, whom Correa is trying to succeed, in her race to defeat Attorney General Kamala Harris for the U.S. Senate. There aren’t a lot of examples of how well Latino candidates do in statewide races and Sanchez may offer some insights, the professor said.

“I don’t think she’ll do very well,” DeSipio said. “To do well statewide she has to really do well in Orange County.”

In June, Sanchez defeated Harris in Orange County by a 27.1 to 24.6 percent margin.

“She hasn’t run a very strong campaign,” DeSipio said.

Also of interest on the ballot in Orange County are competing propositions for and against the death penalty. Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens and Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas have campaigned for Proposition 66, which they say will speed up death penalty appeals and save taxpayers money.

Proposition 62 seeks to abolish the death penalty.

There are four pending death penalty cases in Orange County, including one that entered the jury selection phase this week.

Steven Dean Gordon, who is representing himself legally, will soon go on trial for the kidnapping, rape and murders of four women. Co-defendant Franc Cano will be tried separately.

The other two cases are Scott Dekraai, the worst mass killer in the county’s history, and convicted killer Andrew Urdiales, who has been convicted of three murders in Illinois. The former Marine faces the death penalty for the killings of five women in Orange, San Diego and Riverside counties between 1986 and 1995.

Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders, who represents Dekraai and recently failed to keep Daniel Patrick Wozniak from being sentenced to death, said Proposition 66 would be especially reckless in Orange County. Sanders has raised issues about the exchange of evidence as required by law in his cases, which led to an Orange County Superior Court judge to bump Rackauckas’ office from prosecuting the death penalty phase in the trial of Dekraai, who pleaded guilty.

“We’ve learned so much about the incredible delays and disclosure of evidence. It’s just too risky to have a death penalty that’s operational in this county,” Sanders said. “We’re learning things way late in the game and I would anticipate that would continue for years to come here. There just aren’t the safeguards necessary to impose the death penalty without violating the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.”

Proposition 66 “would be particularly disastrous here, when you have a year to identify issues on habeas corpus, where, again, we’re finding information that’s 10 to 20 years old,” Sanders added. “That’s literally the worst thing that could happen to the justice system. Now you’ve got a year to find things when it took 20 years to find things in cases now. It’s a guarantee of wrongful executions coming out of this county.”

Susan Kang Schroeder, the chief of staff for Rackauckas, ridiculed Sanders’ speculation.

“Sanders is like the Menendez brothers saying we should feel sorry for them because they’re orphaned,” Schroeder said, referring to the siblings convicted of killing their wealthy parents. “He’s the one who’s caused all these delays. Even Gov. Jerry Brown, who is anti-death penalty, doesn’t think there’s a person on death row who has been wrongfully convicted.”

—City News Service

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