Orange County, CA was one of the focal points for Democratic gains in the House this year. Long a bastion of Republicanism in California, Hillary Clinton carried it by 9% in 2016. Downballot, however, the area’s historical proclivity for the GOP was more obvious, as four Republicans held on in Clinton districts. This year, though, the Presidential trend solidified there – every Congressional District in Orange County is now held by a Democrat.
Similarly, in the Gubernatorial race, Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom (D) became the first Democrat to carry the county since 1978. Newsom won by a wide 24% over John Cox (R), who ran on a Trump-ish platform. Interestingly, Cox was still able to outperform most of the GOP Congressional candidates in Orange County. 184 precincts that voted Democratic for Congress also voted Republican for Governor:
Of the 184 Cox/Dem crossover precincts, over half (96) were in the 48th district. CA-48 includs cities near the coast, such as Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, and Laguna Nigel while reaching further inland to take in cities like Fountain Valley and Westminster. Much of the area that is the current 48th was represented by Dana Rohrabacher (R) since 1989. In the past few years, Rohrabacher came under increasing scrutiny for his connections to Russia, which was a contributing factor in his 7% loss last year to Harley Rouda (D):
Rouda’s performance was especially impressive considering CA-48’s vote in the state races. Five statewide races last year featured candidates from both parties, in each, Democrats cleared 60% overall. However, only one Democrat, Controller Betty Yee, carried the district:
Yee was reelected to a second term, defeating Kostantinos Roditis (R) by 31%, and winning the 48th district by just under half a point. Compared to Rouda, Yee lost 65 precincts – many of which were near Huntington and Newport beaches. Yee actually won three Rohrabacher precincts in Westminster (towards the northeastern part of the district), which is known for its large Vietnamese community:
Doing a margin comparison, Yee’s strength in the heavily-Asian parts of the district is more obvious. Aside from Westminster and Santa Ana, Rouda ran ahead of her in the rest of the district. If Yee had an Anglo surname, and matched Rouda in those two communities, seems likely she would have lost the district (she carried it by 1,125 votes). This isn’t to take away from Yee – she led the statewide ticket and posted strong numbers all around – rather, it speaks more to the crossover vote Rouda was able to get throughout CA-48.
While Yee was the statewide Democrat that fared best in CA-48, Insurance Commissioner-elect Ricardo Lara (D) did the worst. The Insurance Commissioner race was perhaps the most interesting state race in California last year.
Former Republican commissioner Steve Poizner left the GOP to run for his old job as an independent. Poizner lost, but many moderate voters were clearly more comfortable voting for him without the GOP label – he took 47% statewide, running noticeably better than the actual Republicans on the ticket. Despite losing, Poizner carried many of the swing districts in the state; this included taking over 60% in CA-48:
Poizner’s result in CA-48 was reminiscent of the crushing margins that Republicans used to get before the Trump era. In 2014, for example, Democratic Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones polled at just 40% in CA-48, while getting reelected by 15%.
The crossover between the Congressional and Insurance Commissioner race was wild. 168 precincts in CA-48 (over half the voting precincts) supported both Rouda and Poizner. This map really shows where the ‘core’ votes of each party are in the district: Santa Ana and Costa Mesa blue for the Democrats, while Newport Beach notably was strong for Poizner and Rohrabacher.
For 2020, it doesn’t seem like the President is getting any more popular in suburban areas like Orange County. This bodes well for Rouda, as the trends from 2016 seem to be holding. Still, between the Republican heritage of this district and the crossover voting in some precincts, it will be interesting to see who the GOP can recruit.