Is Conservative Life Behind the ‘Orange Curtain’ at an End?

(Angie Smith / New Republic)

We now know that “Trump Country,” a phrase often used to describe steel-towns and rust-belt cities, is actually suburbia, where 49 percent of voters voted for Donald Trump and 45 percent voted for Hillary Clinton. Orange County, long a red blip in Southern California’s blue electoral map, should be the epitome of Trump Country: wealthy and conservative, where taxes and real estate and religion hold sway.

But in 2016, Orange County went blue for the first time since the Depression—no, not the recession—we’re talking about 1936, when voters went for FDR. The demographics of the OC have shifted in the past decade or so, and minorities are now the majority. This means the county, at long last, is up for grabs—as long as the Democrats don’t mess it up, explains Vauhini Vara in The New Republic. 

Democrats have made Orange County a particular focus of their organizing and fund-raising efforts. Democratic enthusiasm has swept across Orange County, with more than a dozen candidates signing up to compete for its four Republican-held congressional seats. Last spring, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee made the unprecedented decision to open an office in Irvine, in the center of Orange County, to oversee races in the western states, something it had traditionally handled from its headquarters in Washington, D.C. “It’s very important to us to win Orange County for the purposes of taking back the House,” Representative Ted Lieu, a Democrat from Torrance, California, who is the vice chairman of the DCCC for the western region, told me. Tom Steyer, one of the Democratic Party’s largest donors, is pouring millions of dollars into get-out-the-vote efforts in Orange County and told me he considers the region “critical” to regaining control of Congress.

According to the Democrats’ arithmetic—which assumes that the districts where Clinton won are the ripest for flipping—the four Republican-held Orange County districts should be among the 23 easiest targets in the nation. If Democrats can’t win those seats, the path to retaking Congress becomes much narrower. But their investment in Orange County represents much more than a math problem. At a time when the Democratic Party seems lacking in direction, its approach in Orange County, and whether it is successful, could provide more precise answers about the party’s future than its leaders have been willing or able to provide.

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