Democrats Now Slightly Outnumber Republicans in a Long-Time GOP Stronghold - NBC Southern California
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Democrats Now Slightly Outnumber Republicans in a Long-Time GOP Stronghold

Orange County is now home to 547,458 registered Democrats and 547,369 Republicans, according to statistics released by the county Registrar of Voters

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    Democrats Now Slightly Outnumber Republicans in a Long-Time GOP Stronghold
    AFP/Getty Images
    A woman prepares to vote at an Orange County polling station during the mid-term elections in Huntington Beach, California on November 6, 2018.

    Ronald Reagan called it the place where good Republicans go to die. Richard Nixon was born there on a citrus farm owned by his family. It's also home to the 37th President's library and museum.

    But it appears Orange County is a Republican stronghold no more.

    The county is now home to 547,458 registered Democrats and 547,369 Republicans, according to statistics released by the county Registrar of Voters. The number of voters not aligned with a political party has jumped to more than 440,770, or 27.4 percent of the county's voters.

    The Los Angeles Times reported that Democratic leaders attributed the shift to changing demographics, recruitment efforts and President Trump.

    "Trump's toxic rhetoric and exclusionary policies alienate women, millennials, suburban voters, immigrants and people of color -- critical components of the electorate in Orange County," Katerina Ioannides, chairwoman of the Orange County Young Democrats, told the Times. "The Republican Party's platform no longer resonates in a rapidly diversifying, increasingly college-educated Orange County."

    Shawn Steel, of the Republican national committee for California, said the decline can be attributed to voters who do not register party preference, the Times reports. He also said Republicans have left the state because of housing costs and other factors, like schools and job opportunities.

    "We have a tremendous outflow of people leaving California," he told the Times. "We've been an out-migration state for 20 years, and that's particularly acute in the suburbs."

    The shift from red to bluish was evident over recent election cycles. In the 2016 General Election, Hillary Clinton carried Orange County, becoming the first Democrat to do so since the Depression Era. In that same election, U.S. Rep. Mimi Walters lost to newcomer Katie Porter.

    Two years later, Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a one-time speechwriter for President Reagan, was defeated by Democrat Harley Rouda.

    But Republican leaders say all is not lost.

    Orange County GOP Chairman Fred Whitaker said he still believes the county remains conservative. Candidates will be battling over voters who don't consider themselves part of the two major parties, he said. 

    "Orange County is still a conservative county, but it's now a purple county," Whitaker said. "It's now a fight for the No Party Preference voters who have grown exponentially throughout the state recently, and Orange County isn't immune to that trend. It just hit us later than the rest of the state."

    Whitaker argued that voter registration increases for Democrats in the county since 2006 "has only shifted by 5 percent." He doubted voters were "running to embrace the Democrat Party. In terms of 2020 their gains have not been in competitive districts for the next (election) cycle. We still hold voter registration advantages in the seats we are focused on for the next election."

    Whitaker said the party "maintained a 2-to-1 advantage in holding elected offices throughout the county" last year.

    "We are going to focus on winning the votes of (no-party preference) voters and gaining their support and their registration in the long term. We are going to fight for our county," he said.

    Aggressive policies and overreach by Democrats in Sacramento might result in a shift, he added. Another Republican leader said the swing back to red might take about a decade.

    "We still believe this is a conservative county," Randall Avilla, spokesman for the Republican Party of Orange County, told the Orange County Register.

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