“It’s a permanent campaign cycle. There are no years off anymore,” county Republican Party Chairman Fred Whitaker told The Epoch Times. “I think that we’re now clawing back after getting a shellacking in 2018, and we’re well-positioned for 2022.”
Orange County experienced a blue wave in 2018 as several seats flipped to Democrats in a historically red county. This year, Republicans picked up wins for House seats with candidates Michelle Steel in the 48th District and Young Kim in the 39th. But the margins were narrow, and Democrats gained many local seats while Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden emerged as the county’s favorite.
“In 2018, where we lost by very narrow margins, we were outspent in each one of those seats by four-to-one—this year, where we won by narrow margins, we were only outspent two-to-one,” Whitaker said.
“And so if we can keep that differential, you know, people hate money in politics, but it’s a capitalistic society … and you have to pay for media services, you have to pay for mail, you have to pay for these various types of voter contact, just like in advertising and business.”
The Republican Party endorsed candidates Steel and Kim to clear the way “so that they would be the candidates that anybody talked about, and giving them the free run in the party stamp of approval,” Whitaker said.
“That really I think helped us get a leg up as we went into the campaign.”
He said the party at both the state and county level made more than 8 million calls between Memorial Day and the Nov. 3 election, which was critical to the candidates’ success.
Meanwhile, Democrats overwhelmingly scored seats at the local level on city councils and school boards during the recent election.
For the first time, there will be more Democrats than independents and Republicans serving on school boards throughout the county.
Democratic Party of Orange County spokesperson Rachel Potucek said she expects the party’s success to continue.
“We see very strong momentum for Democrats,” Potucek told The Epoch Times. “Democrats are maintaining their momentum, up and down the ballot, and we expect our elections to continue to be very competitive in the years ahead.”
During the 2016 race, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton defeated President Donald Trump by less than 5 percent in Orange County. The county leaned further left during this year’s election; Biden was its preferred candidate, with 9 percent more votes than Trump.
“That’s a big jump in Orange County’s preference for president, and I think it’s showing this continued move leftward amongst the electorate in Orange County,” Potucek said.
Potucek said that while the congressional races were extremely competitive for the Republicans this election, ultimately they were unable to flip more seats.
“And nationally, Republicans put a lot of energy into these congressional seats. These are very competitive congressional seats, and they will continue to be competitive,” she said.
The 39th and 49th District races, both GOP flips, “were not landslides,” she said. “Those races were very, very, very close. The margins on those were similar to what we saw in 2018.
“So, they’re very much still in play.”
In the 45th district, Democratic incumbent Katie Porter held her seat with little pressure from Republican candidate Greg Raths. She outraised her opponent by more than $13 million; Porter raised $14.8 million to Rath’s $1.27 million, according to OpenSecrets.Org.
“Republicans didn’t even invest in that race,” Potucek said. “They didn’t even see it as competitive. They gave that one up.”
Incumbent Democrat Mike Levin, in the 49th District, held his seat by about six points, which Potucek said was a big jump over his winning margin in 2018.
Meanwhile, Republicans are trying to stay afloat amid a changing county. Whitaker said the party needs to do a better job of campaigning in multi-ethnic cities.
“We underperformed in Irvine, Santa Ana, the flatlands and Anaheim, Fullerton, Buena Park—we need to make sure we have more candidates that resonate with those voters, and they can deliver our message,” he said.
“And that’s where I think that the Democratic shift is happening, really in those areas, and we need to be better at addressing it.”
Meanwhile, at the state level, Democrats have shrunk the Republican presence. In the 29th Senate District, Democrat Josh Newman defeated incumbent Republican Ling Ling Chang in a close contest.
The 37th Senate District was also flipped, with Democrat Dave Min defeating Republican John Moorlach.
The 16 Senate districts are large areas and “very tough, tough seats to flip,” Potucek said. “And the fact that we gained these two seats shows success in Democrats speaking to the changing values of Orange County residents.
“Over the next two years, Democrats are focused on building relationships, and continuing to express our values, she said. “We’re speaking up for important issues that the community cares about, like health care, affordable standard of living, good wages, good jobs, good support for small businesses—these are all things that Democrats care about and talk about.”