Midterm elections: How the home of the Real Housewives and John Wayne could determine Trump’s fate – Donald Trump’s America
Some say a Blue Wave could be coming for the wealthy Republican enclave of Orange County, California. (ABC News: Conor Duffy)
Orange County in Southern California either deserves blame or thanks for creating the first real housewives show then exporting it to the world.
It depends on your point of view of course.
This home of coastal mansions, fancy cars and glorious beaches is usually rolled-gold republican territory but this year, it’s an unlikely midterm election battleground.
It’s in line to be the most expensive house race in the country, and if Democratic challenger Harley Rouda can unseat 30-year congressional Republican veteran Dana Rohrabacher it could mean Democrats regain the House of Representatives.
Again, determine blame or thanks according to your views.
Is District 48 smack in the middle or is Orange County really all champagne and drama?
“Few of us are multiple divorcees living in $5 million houses but there are some of those. There’s a little bit of everything here,” laughs Andre Mouchard, political editor for the biggest local news outfit, the Orange County Register.
Like most stereotypes, the truth is much more complex, and just a few miles away are some of the toughest places in the country.
Demographic shifts and concern among traditional republicans about President Donald Trump mean this race is neck and neck.
“For anybody to suggest that it’s going to be easy to oust a 30-year incumbent, that’s just not the case. That said, all of the headwinds are blowing against Republicans right now,” Mouchard says.
Mr Rohrabacher’s campaign has already lost traditional moneyed endorsements after he said homeowners should be able to refuse to sell to gay people.
As a pot-smoking, surfing libertarian, his whole career has been unusual but his opponents believe his attempt at a 16th term will be his undoing. The congressman’s campaign staff did not respond to the ABC’s requests for comments.
Activist Aaron McCall, from the group Indivisible, says he’ll be working hard to get people to vote right up until polling day.
Activist Aaron McCall says voter turnout will be a key factor in whether the Democrats can flip Orange County. (ABC News: Conor Duffy)
“Orange County and the 48th district are now getting a lot of younger families. They have gay families who buy houses, and … people of colour like myself, who also live here,” he says.
At a small rally at the local university, Harley Rouda is also trying to get students to vote.
He’s been assisted by some huge money — including a one-off $6 million donation from Michael Bloomberg, making this the priciest house race.
Congress could be at stake
“Absolutely all these races are very important for us being able to get the majority back in the house, and while we are confident we are working very hard to make sure that outcome happens,” Mr Rouda says.
There’s even talk, hushed of course, of secret wives clubs of long-term female republican voters who can’t bring themselves to vote for a party led by Mr Trump.
As a former Republican and a wealthy businessman himself, Mr Rouda hopes he won’t be seen as a turncoat but an appealing alternative for them.
Former Republican Harley Rouda aims to flip the GOP stronghold in this year’s midterm elections. (ABC News: Conor Duffy)
“I was a Republican back in the 1990s, when Republicans believed in environmental stewardship, they believed in civil rights, they believed in women’s rights, they believed in voters’ rights, they believed in moderation,” Mr Rouda says.
At the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum though, some Republicans are more amused than concerned by talk of a looming blue wave.
“We have had almost twice as many people turn in their ballots in early voting on the Republican side as the Democrat side, so we’re feeling pretty comfortable right now,” says Jeannie Lewis, the president of the Pat Nixon Republican Women’s Federation.
As well as Nixon, John Wayne was a local luminary.
Reagan said Orange County was the place good Republicans went to die
There’s real power in such long-term political ascendancy, and upending the established order will be tough.
Ms Lewis says since the 1960s, local Republicans have had a well-organised and funded political machine led by a group of wealthy business owners, called the Lincoln Club.
Jeannie Lewis, president of a local Republican women’s group, is confident the GOP can maintain its hold on Orange County. (ABC News: Conor Duffy)
She says Democrats don’t know what they’re up against.
“I don’t think so. I think they count numbers more than strategy,” she says.
Far from Republicans turning on the President, she believes the focus on immigration leading up to the poll will see Democrats turn on their own side.
“A lot of the Democrats will take a close look at what’s going on because they don’t want all the immigrants coming in either and taking their jobs, or just coming in and taking the money that’s here,” she says
Ms Lewis also shoots down talk the Kavanaugh hearings could damage Mr Rohrabacher.
“None of our women cared anything about what they saw on the Kavanaugh front. In fact it really infuriated them … because it wasn’t fair. It didn’t seem like they were being fair to Kavanaugh,” she says.
Back at the newspaper office, Andre Mouchard says while its true there is a schism among local Republicans over Mr Trump, journalists often overlook the most important electoral factor.
“You get a lot of reporters and newspaper editors and op-ed writers who’ll tell you about all these important things that should be happening but if the unemployment rate is low and house prices are going up and people feel comfortable about the economy, they generally vote with the people they see as bringing them that,” he says
In some ways, Orange County, which literally exported an image of an extravagant lifestyle through Real Housewives and The O.C., could be the ultimate test of that theory.
And again, the impact will be felt all the way in Washington and perhaps around the world.