Why Turning Orange County Blue Was Such a Big Deal

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Although California as a whole is a blue state, Orange County, just south of Los Angeles, has been a Republican stronghold for decades. When Richard Nixon’s term ended, he came home to a welcoming Yorba Linda neighborhood. Ronald Reagan, governor of California for 8 years, kicked off his 1984 re-election campaign in Fountain Valley.

The county has voted for Republican presidential candidates since the Great Depression … that is, until 2016 when Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by 5 points. It was the first sign that perhaps something was changing.

Even as some GOP operatives were starting to fret about the competitiveness of some of the districts in Orange County, others scoffed at the idea. Fred Whitaker, the chairman of the Orange County Republican Party, was quoted as saying, “They think we’re the new battleground. There are four Republican-held seats here, and there will be four Republican-held seats here after the 2020 election. It’s a Hail Mary play. It’s desperation.”

Consider this: Ed Royce (CA-39) had been a Representative since 2003, as had Darrell Issa (CA-49). They both had decided to retire from the House this year. Mimi Walters (CA-45) had been a Rep since 2008, and Dana Rohrabacher (CA-48) since 1989. There’s a reason why so many people thought this was a permanently red county.

But this is what happened in this midterm election:

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For a great history of how Orange County became an epicenter of the conservative movement, I recommend Suburban Warriors by Lisa McGirr. Also for a post-election analysis of what happened in Orange County, I recommend Politico Magazine’s article, Orange Crush: Inside the GOP Struggle to Hold the Southern California Suburbs.

Congratulations to Representative-Elects Gil Cisneros, Katie Porter, Harley Rouda, and Mike Levin! And a big thank you to all of the activists and volunteers who knocked on doors and made phone calls and did everything they did to get them elected!

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