One take on the results of the November election is that the Republican Party needs to get to work, first and foremost, on rebuilding the Party in coastal Orange County, especially coastal southern Orange County, to re-establish the possibility of large margins of Republican votes in statewide elections from this area. That’s because voters in these former bastions of conservatism, and historical homes to Congressional districts of the likes of Chris Cox, Ron Packard and John Schmitz , turned out in droves for Barack Hussein Obama in the Presidential election. The "GOP brand" is hurting here, and given the irony of high Republican registration in these areas, GOP leaders need to find a solution to getting these voters back in the Republican column or risk the creation of a longer-term Democrat trend in an important part of what used to be called America’s most Republican county.
Courtesy of Allen Hoffenblum’s "Target Book," we learn that though Congressman Dana Rohrabacher beat Democrat Debbie Cook handily at 53% to 43%, that John McCain’s margin of victory was much closer in this 46th Congressional District, including Seal Beach, Newport Beach, and parts of Long Beach, with McCain barely winning it over Obama, 50% to 48%. It is a credit to Dana Rohrabacher that he ended up winning a targeted race with a strong margin of victory in a very tough election year. It is also fair to conclude that if this race had not been targeted, and if Rohrabacher had not been such a good candidate, John McCain would have lost this Orange County Congressional district. Here, it was Rohrabacher who helped John McCain. Nevertheless, this district needs help now from the GOP on registration and activities geared to revitalizing interest in the "GOP brand" to try to welcome back those split-ballot Obama voters to the Republican Party.
But even more startling are the results in the 48th Congressional district. The 48th was not a "targeted" race. It includes Laguna Beach, Irvine, parts of Newport Beach, Mission Viejo, Laguna Niguel and Dana Point. George W. Bush carried it by 58% in 2004 to Kerry’s 40%. Yet Obama actually won John Campbell’s Congressional District by 49.5% to McCain’s 48.7%. Such an outcome would have been practically unthinkable in this district when Obama first launched his campaign for the presidency. Obama’s victory in this district is head-shaking.
History was against the Republicans in this last election, as George W. Bush ended 8 years in office. And John McCain’s poor showing of 38% of the statewide vote is a big source of the problem in the Congressional Districts. He was just a poor candidate for California, and the national GOP’s traditional November abandonment of campaigning in the state of Ronald Reagan contributed to the problem. In a statewide poll produced for one of my clients in March of 2008 by Princeton pollster Adam Geller, McCain had 36% of the vote to 51% for Obama and 11% undecided. The poll showed, however, that on an issue basis, McCain could have made significant inroads. That didn’t happen, as there was almost no serious campaign here, and no significant independant expenditures against Obama, which would have lifted downballot Republican totals by giving Republican leaners a reason to vote. Thus, it is not surprising how the numbers hardly moved from March to the end of the campaign in November.
In 2010, Republican and former Republican-leaning voters in the 46th and 48th Congressional districts won’t have John McCain on their ballots. The question is, however, where will the 2008 voters be on the very important 2010 Gubernatorial election? To have a chance, the GOP candidate for Governor will absolutely need to rely on Orange County to build a big vote margin, to help offset losses in tradtionally liberal northern California. Is the Obama victory in coastal southern Orange County the start a trend, such that a Jerry Brown, for example, might have a shot at winning it in 2010, thus assuring a statewide victory? Such an outcome is practically unthinkable.