Democrats Demolish The 'Orange Curtain' In Orange County There will be no Republican members of Congress from Orange County, Calif. It is a stunning turn for a county that was once the heart of the state's GOP.
NPR logo

Democrats Demolish The 'Orange Curtain' In Orange County

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/669330214/669891772" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Democrats Demolish The 'Orange Curtain' In Orange County

Democrats Demolish The 'Orange Curtain' In Orange County

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/669330214/669891772" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The election results in California have been coming in slowly, and some still aren't final yet, but we do know that not a single Republican will represent Orange County in Congress. It's a pretty stunning development given that county's history as a Republican stronghold. But as NPR's Tamara Keith reports, when you look at the rest of the state, it seemed sort of inevitable.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Richard Nixon was born and raised in Orange County, Calif. Ronald Reagan got his political fuel from there.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RONALD REAGAN: When people need a little sunshine in their lives and a feel for the optimism that fills the soul of this beautiful country, then I can assure them they'll find it in Orange County.

(CHEERING)

KEITH: Even as coastal liberals came to dominate California politics, Orange County was a conservative bastion with an ocean view - not anymore. This is how Kristin Olsen, the former vice chair of the California Republican Party, put it in an interview with All Things Considered.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

KRISTIN OLSEN: It was a blue tsunami, to say the least, and I believe the death of the California Republican Party.

KEITH: Not everyone is going quite that far, but California Republicans are in a dark place. Rob Stutzman is a Republican political consultant based in Sacramento.

ROB STUTZMAN: Orange County was different. I mean, it was, as we called it, the Orange Curtain, and it has now fallen. I mean, Republicans can compete there in the future, but they're going to have to literally compete now.

KEITH: In 2016, for the first time since the Great Depression, voters in Orange County chose a Democratic candidate for president over the Republican. Still, Republicans didn't expect a wipe out in Orange County in 2018. They were wrong. Harmeet Dhillon is the Republican National Committee woman from California.

HARMEET DHILLON: It's been quite difficult to process.

KEITH: In an election where college-educated suburbanites, especially women, turned their backs on Republicans, Orange County represents a stark example of the national trend. As the Republican Party has become the party of Trump, it has at least for now lost some traditional Republicans, says Dhillon.

DHILLON: The rap on Orange County today is sort of the country club establishment Republicans and not the grassroots Republicans and the new wave of Republicans that got Donald Trump elected to office.

KEITH: The GOP in California has been in decline for years. Stutzman, who is a Republican, says his party's brand is toxic in California.

STUTZMAN: We started digging the whole a lot faster once Trump became president - frankly, once he was on the ballot in 2016. And Republican brand has become even less popular than ever here over the last two years.

KEITH: Some trace the decline back to 1994 and a campaign ad with grainy footage of immigrants running across the border in the dark of night.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) They keep coming - 2 million illegal immigrants in California.

KEITH: It was a winning issue that year, just as President Trump sees his focus on the migrant caravan as key to defeating Democratic senators in red states. But Stutzman worries a Republican Party that can't win in increasingly diverse and affluent suburbs like Orange County has bigger problems long term than just being beleaguered in California.

STUTZMAN: There is, I think, a real concern that the West starts to become unattainable from an Electoral College perspective if the party continues down this path, let alone you're going to just flitter away dozens of congressional seats.

KEITH: Dhillon and other Republicans argue it isn't as simple as blaming Trump or his immigration rhetoric. They say with better candidates, a better ground game and more money, Republicans could still be competitive in the county they once dominated. Tamara Keith, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF PACIFIC COLISEUM'S "WAVE CATALYST (HIGH TIDE)")

Copyright © 2018 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.