Trump v California—the OC Battleground

Sherry Bebitch Jeffe & Doug Jeffe
Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, Professor of the Practice of Public Policy Communication, Sol Price School of Public Policy, University of Southern California, and Doug Jeffe, Communications and Public Affairs Strategist

Donald Trump’s war with California is raging on all fronts—health care, climate change, environmental regulation, taxes, land use and, of course, immigration.  Nowhere are the battles fiercer or the stakes higher than in Orange County, the one-time bastion of conservative Republican politics that has morphed from solid red to purple.  Hillary Clinton carried Orange County in 2016 and Democrats are eyeing four GOP Congressional seats in OC as ground zero for their plans to take over the House.

Even more than in most elections, voter turnout will be decisive.  Democrats are counting on anti-Trump fervor, the #MeToo movement and increases in youth participation following the Parkland shootings.  If the participation levels match the levels that have led to strong and often unexpected showings in elections across the country, since Trump’s inauguration, Democrats are in for a good day on November 6.  A national Democratic wave could produce a clean sweep of targeted GOP Congressional districts in Orange County.

California Republicans have been searching for an issue to motivate their base.  For now, the Affordable Care Act has turned from a GOP talking point into a liability.  There is little evidence that the Republican initiative push to repeal California’s new increases in fuel taxes and automobile fees is gaining much traction, as market swings dwarf any tax impact at the pump.

Trump and company claim bragging rights for passage of their tax reform package, but exclusion of deductions for state and local taxes pretty much nullifies perceived benefits for most Californians.  Besides, no California politician is seriously threatening to raise taxes, except maybe on the super-rich.

That brings us to immigration as the potentially defining issue of the mid-term elections in Orange County. As it is overall in the state, support for immigration and DACA is strong in Orange County, which includes large Asian and Latino populations.  The Democrats are counting on motivating Latinos and other affected voter groups and their supporters to register and turn out to vote.

But there’s anger, too, over on the other side. Like the early fight over the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), California’s sanctuary moves are being twisted and turned by both sides. And the whole argument over the so-called “sanctuary state” might tela different story.

Nearly a dozen Orange County cities, including Newport Beach, Orange, Los Alamitos, Huntington Beach, Mission Viejo, Yorba Linda, Aliso Viejo, Fountain Valley, Westminster and San Juan Capistrano, as well as the County itself, are fighting SB 54, which limits the ability of local law enforcement to cooperate with federal immigration officials. Brewing opposition to California’s sanctuary state may have given conservatives their issue.

Sure, some on the left consider ICE to be no less than an invading force.  On the other hand, although SB 54 was amended considerably–at Governor Jerry Brown’s insistence, to permit law enforcement to cooperate fully with the Feds in cases involving serious and violent crimes, many sheriffs, police chiefs and prosecutors still balk at having their hands tied in any way.  And conservative activists opposed to California’s immigration reforms have been making their opposition heard–loud and clear, as have OC politicians hungry to ratchet up enthusiasm in their GOP base.

Like almost every campaign in 2018, Orange County election results are likely to come down to voter approval of Donald Trump. A March Morning Consult poll put Trump’s job approval rating at 32% in California. In Orange County, an April Chapman College survey put it at 37%. (It should be noted that this survey showed a strong partisan divide on Trump’s performance; about 3 of 4 Republicans approve, but 95% of Democrats and a majority of NPP voters disapprove.)

According to the Chapman poll, OC voters, like California voters, disagree with Trump’s stances on issues such as immigration and DACA, gun control, climate change and environmental regulation.

How OC voters—of all stripes–feel about “the Donald” may well determine who votes, how they vote and whether they come out to vote at all. Expect immigration and the sanctuary state to be at the center of that equation.

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