Democrats are hoping Southern California will play a major role in a blue wave of elected officials this November, helping the party regain control of Congress. In early 2017, the Democratic Party opened a field office in Irvine, signaling an aggressive campaign to unseat four Orange County Republicans: Reps. Darrell Issa, Dana Rohrabacher, Ed Royce, and Mimi Walters.
Nearly a year later, Republicans are hastily opening their own office in Irvine.
“The GOP is scrambling,” says Drew Godinich, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s West Coast press secretary. Republicans opening an office in Orange County is “an indication that national Republicans are slowly realizing that their incumbents in California are in deep trouble — which Democrats have known, and invested in, for over a year.”
Issa and Royce opted to retire rather than face voters again in November, leaving Republicans to defend two open seats in Orange County. Democratic enthusiasm in the region is clear, as most of the 54 candidates vying for one of the four seats are Democrats.
As SoCal Daily previously reported, voter registration data shows a spike in registration for Democrats while Republicans continue to lose ground. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in Orange County, the first Democrat to do so in more than 80 years.
Just as voters rejected Trump in 2016, Trump’s unpopularity in California presents a sizable obstacle to Republicans in 2018. Trump’s approval ratings hover around 30 percent in the Golden State, significantly worse than his national ratings.
“Trump’s brand of xenophobia is toxic to what little is left of the Republican Party in California,” says Kurt Bardella, Issa’s former spokesperson. “Instead of evolving with the changing demographics, Republicans in California have continued to embrace the fringe policies and rhetoric of the most extreme edges of the GOP.”
Despite Trump’s toxicity, both Rohrabacher and Walters continue to fully support his agenda. Both voted to dismantle the country’s health care law, going so far as to try to end protections for people with pre-existing conditions.
“Trump is driving the Republican Party rank-and-file off the proverbial political cliff,” writes National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar. Using a different metaphor for disaster, former California Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger compared his party to the Titanic.
Orange County was once so solidly Republican that Ronald Reagan quipped it was “where all the good Republicans go to die.”
Now Republicans are scrambling to send staff and resources to try to defend seats that were once considered safe.