This year, Democrats saw successful midterms results across the country, but that has proven to be particularly true in the nation’s most populous state. In Orange County especially, the results of the elections have inundated once-Republican areas, making the GOP more of a political idea than a reality in California.
The victory of Democrat Gil Cisneros over Republican Young Kim in the race for the 39th Congressional District, which was the last race to be called in Orange County, left that formerly GOP bastion with zero Republican representation in Washington, D.C. The area was once considered the country’s “Most Republican County”, as a recent article on the San Francisco Chronicle noted:
“In much of the country, the seats Democrats won have been volleyed back and forth for years,” depending on which party was in power, said Paul Mitchell of Political Data Inc., which collects and analyzes voter information. “But in California, we didn’t have a takeover, we had an overthrow.”
Just as Orange County was long a nationwide symbol of Republican power, it became an indicator this year of how much has changed. Democrats flipped all four GOP seats in that once-conservative core.
But even though Democrats have been talking out loud about a midterm “blue wave”, Republicans didn’t see it coming and so they were instead surprised by a tsunami. Even after Election Day, Rep. Mimi Walters, who lost to Katie Porter, was planning to run for chair of the House GOP’s campaign arm.
In that same Chronicle article, John Wildermuth and Tal Kopan put together these numbers that perfectly put in perspective the situation for Democrats and Republicans in the Golden (really, Blue) state:
- Going into the election, 14 of California’s 53 members of the House were Republicans. Come January, that will probably drop to eight.
- In California history, Democrats have never held more than the 57 seats they had in the 80-member Assembly in 1977. They are already assured of holding that many when the Legislature reconvenes, and are leading in races that could bring the total to 60.
- Democrats lost their two-thirds majority in the state Senate in June, when Josh Newman was recalled from his Orange County seat. After flipping two Central Valley seats, they have their supermajority back with a vote to spare, meaning they can pass virtually any legislation without Republican help.
- For the third election in a row, Democrats won every statewide office, each one by double digits. Not a single Republican collected as much as 39 percent of the vote.
Republicans who lost made excuses. Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher claimed it was “a bought and sold election” while Young Kim, who lost in the 39th Congressional District, engaged in what’s become standard false GOP spin about “harassment and intimidation of vote counters.” Neither candidate acknowledged their party’s self-imposed weaknesses and how, as CNN reported, Trump’s anti-immigrant attacks hurt Republicans:
This time Orange County voters revolted against the racially-tinged and misogynistic rhetoric of Trump. Well-liked incumbents like Walters labored against Trump’s villainy of immigrants and the migrant caravan and his suggestion that he could alter birthright citizenship.
That was especially true for Latino voters. The American Election Eve Poll of California Latino voters found 84% thought it was true that Trump and the Republicans are using toxic rhetoric to divide us from one another. The poll also found 86% of Latino voters in California supported Democratic candidates. A study from UCLA confirmed that Latino voters did show up in greater numbers this year:
The researchers say that in nearly 40 percent of the precincts where Latinos make up most of the registered voters, the number of ballots cast jumped at least 70 percent. That’s in Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties and compared to the last midterms four years ago.
In reality, the GOP wipeout happened because many things have been changing in the region, including demographics, and Republicans overlooked or ignored them. Civic engagement organizations hit the streets and knocked on doors to really hear what people cared about, young people were engaged and voted, and a majority of voters rejected the xenophobia that was being pushed by Donald Trump. This combined for an historic election that turned Orange County blue.