Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa) spends too much time promoting Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, and Republican Scott Baugh is a lobbyist who can be bought for the right price.
At least, those are the messages in recent ads, one by Baugh attacking Rohrabacher, and another by Rohrabacher attacking Baugh. These former friends are now making the case for why the other should not be in Congress, ahead of the June 5 primary.
Baugh calls out Rohrabacher for a “failed 30-year record in Congress,” where Rohrabacher passed only three bills. The ad also hits Rohrabacher to taking 172 taxpayer-funded international trips “to promote marijuana and Russia.” Rohrabacher has a long history of pro-Russian statements, including disparaging U.S. intelligence agencies to defend Russia.
Rohrabacher, in turn, attacks Baugh for being a lobbyist who can be bought for the right price. In addition to the ad, Rohrabacher’s campaign has set up a website for the sole purpose of attacking Baugh. The site notes, “Special interests bankroll him, and unsurprisingly, he is known around the political scene as ‘Bought Baugh.'”
Baugh has responded by turning to the Orange County Republican Party, demanding “an ethics investigation into the false, misleading, defamatory and distorted information used by Dana Rohrabacher’s campaign committee and Congressman Rohrabacher himself.”
While they spend time and money attacking each other, both men still hold similar views that are increasingly out of touch with Orange County residents.
Both men are trying to tie themselves to Trump, even though 2 in 3 Orange County residents are unhappy with Trump’s job performance. Rohrabacher claims Baugh is funded by “never Trumpers,” or Republicans who are opposed to Trump. Baugh claims he will work with Trump on issues such as the border wall.
On immigration, both are also taking a decidedly hard line. Rohrabacher has a long history of anti-immigrant rhetoric, and Trump’s racist tones only seem to be encouraging Rohrabacher. Baugh brags in his ad about being “against amnesty,” and a desire to be tough on the border, similar views to those held by Rohrabacher.
But Orange County is rapidly diversifying, both in population and views about immigration. “Orange County is changing,” says Fred Smoller, a professor of political science at Champan University. “It’s more young, more Latino and more Asian.” Further, a poll from Chapman shows 83 percent of Orange County residents support a way for undocumented immigrants to stay in the country legally.
As Baugh and Rohrabacher argue over who is closest to the extreme far right of the Republican Party, Orange County is shifting to the political center, if not the center-left. In 2016, for the first time in 80 years, Orange County supported the Democratic nominee for President. Voter registration data show a steep increase in Democrats, lessening the Republican advantage.
Several Democrats are vying for the opportunity to oust Rohrabacher, including one, Harley Rouda, who has more campaign cash than Rohrabacher. In the June 5 primary, the two candidates with the most votes, regardless of party affiliation, move on to the November general election
The retirements of Congressmen Darrell Issa and Ed Royce show some Republicans see a possible Democratic wave coming in 2018. Yet Baugh and Rohrabacher continue to, in the words of a former Issa staffer, “embrace the fringe policies and rhetoric of the most extreme edges of the GOP.”