(CN) – In 2018, Orange County – one of California’s last Republican enclaves – was swept by a “Blue Wave” as Democrats, moderates and defecting Republicans turned off by President Donald Trump's rebranding of the GOP ousted all four Republican representatives which held the majority of the county’s six congressional districts.
Now, Republicans are vying for a comeback in California’s suburban, wealthy enclave which is quickly evolving to mirror the cultural diversity the state is known for.
GOP takes aim at Orange County Democrats
Orange County officials revealed in August that more residents had registered as Democrats than as Republicans.
Ada Briceño, chair of the Orange County Democratic Party, praised the new figures and said the party is working to build on 2018 gains, including by capturing down-ballot seats in the county next year.
“We’ve been transforming ourselves for years,” Briceño said in an interview. “We’re seeing the fruits of our labor. We know all eyes in the nation are looking at us and we’re not taking anything for granted.”
But nearly a third of the county’s 1.6 million registered voters identify as having no party preference.
Orange County Republican Party director Randall Avila said in an interview that he believes the GOP can win over no-party voters through face-to-face engagement and targeted online ads.
“A lot of these voters are frustrated with affordability,” Avila said, adding that taxes and housing costs have forced many to consider leaving California. “Those with kids in college are not seeing a real future where their kids can graduate, get jobs and buy homes.”
The GOP will invest heavily in the 39th District race, where Avila said voters are upset that Rep. Gil Cisneros, who campaigned as a moderate, backed impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump.
“The game is a little different than it was in 2018,” Avila said regarding shifting voter sentiments. “People saw our candidates as a proxy vote on the president, but in 2020 they can vote down Trump if they like.”
But Fred Smoller, a Chapman University professor, believes Cisneros’ incumbent advantage and fundraising power – coupled with Trump’s unpopularity – will mean victory for Democrats.
“In Orange County, which supported Hillary Clinton [in 2016], Trump doesn't represent the business-oriented Republicans who want less regulation and are free-traders,” Smoller said. “Money matters. Republicans would have to mount a very big campaign.”
And Loyola Marymount University political science professor Fernando Guerra said while Cisneros had a tough time flipping the seat in 2018, “he’ll have an easier time keeping it” as the district was already trending Democratic.
Guerra said Democrats are expected to turn out to polls in greater numbers in 2020.
“If you didn’t win in 2018 when there were less Democrats voting, how are you going to win when there’s much more Democrats voting in 2020?” Guerra said. “Is it possible that Republicans capture one or two of the [Orange County] seats? Sure. But I see no scenario where they re-capture all of them.”
Democrats look to build on 'Blue Wave'
Cynthia Aguirre knows working class and immigrant residents in her Orange County community have to push elected officials to advocate for them. She isn’t waiting for anyone to do the heavy lifting, which is why she volunteered at a food drive for 300 residents in the 39th District.