Democrats officially outnumber Republican registrants in the historically Republican stronghold of Orange County, delivering a blow to a county that’s known as the birthplace of President Richard Nixon and proudly called itself “Reagan Country” for decades.
As of Wednesday, there are more Democrats than any other party or than voters registered with no party preference, according to Orange County Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley.
“If it can happen in Orange County, it can happen anywhere,” Orange County Democratic Party Chairwoman Ada Briceño said.
Briceño is an immigrated to the U.S. from Nicaragua and benefited from the Reagan administration’s amnesty program. She is the first immigrant to lead the party in Orange County.
As of Wednesday night, there were 547,458 voters registered as Democrats in Orange County, compared to 547,369 Republicans. The next biggest chunk of voters in OC are the “No Party Preference” at 440,711.
However, Republicans still outnumber Democrats in Newport Beach by more than double. According to the Registrar of Voters, 27,356 Newport Beach residents check the Rep box compared to 12,903 in the Dem category.
Laguna Beach is home to 6,646 Democrats compared to 5,045 Republicans.
The Republican Party of Orange County’s leadership, including its chairman Fred Whitaker of Orange, didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday.
Fred Smoller, an associate professor of political science at Chapman University, said this political shift is an important change for Orange County which has seen more political activism among young people and Latinos.
“We’re not a blue county in the way once we were a red county,” Smoller said. “We are much more competitive.”
In 2016, Smoller predicted that Democrats would outnumber Republicans in Orange County by 2020. President Donald Trump just accelerated that process and may have done permanent damage to the Republican brand, Smoller said.
“The Republican Party, by failing to denounce him, they have made themselves the party of Trump,” Smoller said.
Democrats representing Orange County districts, including Rep. Harley Rouda and Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris, both from Laguna Beach, still face a very competitive re-election campaign in south Orange County cities that are still predominately Republican.