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Sunday, June 23, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Blue Wave Washes Red as Democrats Falter in Orange County Races

The 2020 campaign season was a wash for President Donald Trump in California, but the state’s GOP candidates are poised to win back several House seats the party lost to the 2018 Democratic blue wave.

(CN) — The 2020 campaign season was a wash for President Donald Trump in California, but the state’s GOP candidates are poised to win back several House seats the party lost to the 2018 Democratic blue wave.

U.S. Representative Harley Rouda of the 48th Congressional District conceded his race against his Republican challenger, Orange County Supervisor Michelle Steel. Rouda spent just one term in office after beating longtime Republican incumbent Dana Rohrabacher, who represented the reliably conservative district since 2013.

In a statement, Rouda listed his accomplishments while in office and said it was because Congress “worked with Republicans instead of demonizing them and refused to give in to partisan politics.”

“I thought that was the right thing to do. I still feel that way. I will always feel that way. Country comes first,” said Rouda. “We did not win this election. And while it isn’t the outcome we had hoped for, it’s never been more important for our leaders to hear the voice of the people, and to accept their judgment. I do.”

As of Tuesday, Steel had a roughly 7,300-vote lead over Rouda. In a video statement, she said voters who chose her were not backing “a person but for the idea that the American dream is alive and well in Orange County. That minorities who might not look like you, or talk like you, can come from humble beginnings and not only have a place in this Republican party, but can be elected to Congress in the best district, in the best state in the Union.”

The appetite for a conservative candidate might be alive and well in Orange County and other parts of California, but that did not extend to Trump who won very few counties in the Golden State according to election results. Biden led Trump by about 137,000 votes in Orange County as of Tuesday.

Steel is not an outlier in an area where Trump failed to win — several other Republican challengers are leading against their Democratic incumbents, including the 39th Congressional District held by Rep. Gil Cisneros, D-Yorba Linda.

Cisneros trails former Assemblywoman Young Kim by roughly 3,500 votes for the House seat that represents parts of Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino counties. Kim narrowly lost the 2018 race for the same seat against Cisneros.

But that shifts a bit when looking at nearby Ventura and LA County, where Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Santa Clarita, leads Democratic challenger and Assemblywoman Christy Smith by just 159 votes according to the California Secretary of State.

Garcia won a special election earlier this year after former Democratic Rep. Katie Hill resigned following a report by a conservative news blog revealing she had an “inappropriate” relationship with a campaign staffer.

Still, it doesn’t surprise pundits that former Republican strongholds that were washed blue in 2018 could turn back to red.

“Especially, with a loyal Orange County, it’s not all that astonishing to see Steel pull ahead of Rouda,” said political analyst Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, co-host of the podcast “Inside Golden State Politics.”

While Steel spoke to voters about jobs and how Rouda would raise their taxes, the incumbent took a different route, said Jeffe.

Another possible reason Rouda lost his seat and other Democratic incumbents might follow is their very time in office and how they have voted.

“They have a record that can be combed through. I thought Kim’s ads were much more powerful than Cisnero’s, because she went right for the throat about corruption and that might have connected better with voters,” said Jeffe. “There’s so much distrust of elected officials right now.”

Rouda went after Steel’s ties to the Trump administration. Steel is married to Republican National Committee member Shawn Steel, who was named in a Wall Street Journal report this past June that detailed influence-selling involving the Trump administration and Chinese nationals.

“That maybe didn’t work all that well,” said Jeffe. “There are some voters who just don’t love Trump, but have no problem with Trumpism.”

Trump may have lost in Orange County, but the energy he brought to the party definitely weathered the 2020 race and that got more Republican voters to the polls.

“We’re seeing that 2020 is a repudiation of Trump and his erratic behavior, but not the way he got Trumpism out into parts of the country,” said Jeffe.

Categories / Politics

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