Democrat Gil Cisneros overthrew Republican candidate Young Kim in the state’s 39th congressional district, thus assuring dominance for Democrats in Orange County while bolstering his party’s majority in the House of Representatives. Democrats now hold all seven of the congressional seats covering Orange County (a former Republican stronghold) for the first time since the 1940s. Orange County was the birthplace of Richard Nixon and is home to 3.2 million people in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. Four formerly Republican seats will be held by Democrats when the new congress convenes in January. Republicans are in the midst of soul-searching since their losses on Election Day.

Besides the victories in Orange County, Democrats picked up the last Republican seat in Los Angeles County when Rep. Steve Knight (R-Calif.) was bested by Democrat Katie Hill. The GOP also lost a seat in agricultural Central Valley. Democrats thus hold a 45-8 advantage over Republicans in California. Among the seats taken by Democrats were those held by Republican Reps. Darrell Issa and Ed Royce. Royce’s 39th District was one of seven targeted by Democrats across California after Hillary Clinton carried them in the 2016 presidential election.

Targeted by Democrats ever since Hillary Clinton carried the 39th District in 2016, the district is equally divided between Democrats, Republicans, and independents. Ethnic diversity has become notable there as well. The 47-year-old Cisneros relied on a $266 million lottery jackpot to fund his war chest but had been in a close race with Republican Kim. In a statement released after the election, Cisneros said, “In one of the most diverse districts in the country I learned that for all of our differences, we all care about the same things.” He added, “Most of all, we want to live in a world brought together by hope, not divided by hate.” Cisneros will be the first person with a Spanish surname to represent the district. he said in a statement.

Kim is a former state legislator who had worked for outgoing Republican Rep. Ed Royce, who is vacating the seat and had endorsed her. She is an immigrant from South Korea and tried to put daylight between herself and President Donald Trump on issues such as trade and health care.  Nevertheless, Democrats tied her to Trump.

Democrats are on track to hold all statewide offices in California. Both U.S. Senators are Democrats, as is the governor. The state legislature has a Democrat supermajority in both chambers of the Legislature and the party has a 3.7-million advantage in voter registration. Republicans did not have a candidate on the ballot for U.S. Senate.

The Republican Party is 'dead'

Last week, former state GOP vice chair Kristen Olsen wrote an op-ed at CalMatters that claims that her party is “dead” in California. She wrote: “The California Republican Party isn’t salvageable at this time. The Grand Old Party is dead – partly because it has failed to separate itself from today’s toxic, national brand of Republican politics....I and others have been warning people for years that this day of reckoning was coming if we didn’t do something different.” Saying that California Republicans had long welcomed immigrants with a message of economic progress, she added: “Unfortunately, tragically, that is not the Republican Party promoted by President Donald Trump and his brand of national politics today. We have lost our way, and it’s killing any opportunity for political balance and thoughtful debate in California, elements that good public policy relies on.”

Olsen currently serves as supervisor of Stanislaud County. She was formally charged with a DUI infraction in October.

Olsen wrote that Republicans have “failed to adapt to changing demographics and to get back to our basic fundamental belief in liberty and responsibility, freedom, economic opportunity, and educational excellence.” She called for “healing and unity” that are “important to the sustainability, strength, and growth of our nation, that end goals do not justify vindictive or hateful or ill-conceived means.” Olsen called on the party to find leaders who “value and promote the fundamental principles and values of our American Republic and constitutional democracy.” She concluded by saying that Republicans must acknowledge that they have a “serious internal problem,” and “Ignoring the toxicity is not enough, as California’s election results demonstrate. We must call it out and model a different and better way because that’s what our fellow Californians deserve.”

On Tuesday, Olsen acknowledged in an interview with NPR show host Audie Cornish the “blue tsunami” that happened on November 6 when Democrats made sweeping victories in California. Olsen identified two issues that lent themselves to what she called the “toxic brand” of the national Republican party in California. One was the aftermath of demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia, which resulted in the death of a leftist protester. 

CORNISH: Can you give me two issues that you know for fact play nationally for Republicans but in California are toxic?

OLSEN: One was Charlottesville. The fact that the Trump presidency did not immediately call out the racism, the hatred, the violence that was going on there, that was a major falling-off-the-cliff point, if you will, for Californians.

A second issue - separating children from families at the border. Of course we all want to have secure borders, but our economy is also so reliant on immigration. And we need to be able to streamline ways so that people can immigrate here legally but that we're also keeping families together. And that was a very troubling point for many California Republicans.

CORNISH: Is the issue really that you're out of line with the current Republican Party, not that the party is somehow the problem, because there are other states that went more red, right?

OLSEN: Right.

CORNISH: If you look at Missouri or something like that - you just may be in the wrong place.

OLSEN: I sure hope not. I've spent a lot of time over the last couple years, actually, evaluating, doing some self-reflection and evaluating, did I leave the party? Did my principles change, or did the party leave me? And I really tried to do an honest assessment of that to the extent that you can. And I truly believe the party left me. I feel like my core principles today are the same principles I've always had, the same ones that are at the root of the Republican Party - economic opportunity, freedom, liberty, individual responsibility, fiscal accountability.

Those are not values that I see being championed by today's national Republican Party in a Trump presidency. That's heartbreaking for me to say that, but I do believe the party has moved into a place that it didn't used to be. This is not the party of Abraham Lincoln or Ronald Reagan.

Reasons for GOP decline

State GOP chair Jim Brulte told Neil Cavuto on Fox News in June that Republicans may eventually regain their supremacy in the state because “nothing is permanent in politics.” He said that Republican registrations have been declining since 1996. “Republican registration has declined as the white population has declined,” Brulte said. He added that California is one of just four “majority-minority” states in the Union. Saying that Republicans “fight hard” in the state. “California is unbelievably important in this election. If you will," Brulte, "let me give you two data points: there are more registered voters in California than there are residents in 46 of the other 49 states; and there are 14 [California] Republicans in congress. Forty-one states in America don’t have 14 members of congress, total. So that’s why this is such an important battleground this year.”

Brulte has chaired the state GOP since 2013, having served in both chambers of the state legislature as the leader of his caucus. He was also once the executive director of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly, which was credited with boosting the Latino vote for Republicans, including Ronald Reagan, in the 1980s. Since then, Latinos within the Republican Party have identified immigration as an issue that must be resolved in order to secure Latino votes.

Minority majority

Three of the four congressional districts that have flipped from Republican to Democrat have foreign-born populations that make up 25 percent or more of the region. The 39th District, which Democrat Cisneros won, has a 34.1 percent foreign-born population. In Orange County, the number of foreign-born residents coming from Asia and Latin America has driven a demographic change that has had apparent effects in the political sphere. Held by a congressional Democrat, California’s 46th District is notable for having four-out-of-ten residents being born outside the United States. The 47th District, which is also in Orange County, has a foreign-born population of nearly 30 percent. 

The 45th District, where Rep. Mimi Walters (R-CA) was bested by Democrat Katie Porter, foreign-born residents constitute nearly 30 percent. In the 48th District, which veteran Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) lost to Harley Rouda after serving in the seat since 2013, now has a foreign-born population of nearly 25 percent. In the 49th District, where the foreign-born population is below 20 percent, Democrat Mike Levin defeated incumbent Republican Diane Harkey. The district has foreign-born residents who make up between an 18 to 19 percent, of which about 55 percent are from Latin America and nearly 30 percent coming from Asia.

Elsewhere in the country, districts such as in New York’s 14th, Minnesota’s 5th, and Massachusetts’ 7th District have high percentages of foreign-born residents, who elected leftist Democrats who favor open borders and Medicare for all. 

According to the Pew Foundation:

"Nine U.S. House districts in which Hispanics make up at least 10% of eligible voters changed parties. These include Florida’s 26th and 27th districts, California’s 25th District, Arizona’s 2nd District, Texas’ 7th and 32nd districts, Colorado’s 6th District, New York’s 11th District and New Jersey’s 2nd District. In all of these congressional districts, the Democratic candidate won a seat previously held by a Republican."

How Latinos voted in 2018

Latinos, both native and foreign-born, constitute an increasingly large number of residents. In 2018, a record 29 million Latinos were eligible to vote in this year’s midterm elections or about 12.8 percent of all eligible voters and therefore a new record. They made up approximately 11 percent of voters on Election Day and thus nearly matched their share of all eligible voters.

According to the National Election Pool exit poll data cited by the Pew Foundation, 69 percent of Latinos voted for the Democratic candidate and 29 percent backed the Republican candidate. A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center before the election showed that  62 percent of Latinos said they identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party as compared with 27 percent who preferred the Republican Party. A lower share of whites (44 percent) voted for Democrats in congressional races compared with blacks (90 percent) and Asians (77 percent). 

Latino women more often voted for Democrats than Latino men in 2018: respectively 73 percent to 63 percent.The Pew Research Center survey of Hispanics before the election showed that Latino women were significantly more dissatisfied with the direction of the country than Latino men. Among white voters, 49 percent of white women backed the Democratic congressional candidate as compared with 39 percent of white men. There were few differences between the sexes noted among black voters, with about nine-in-ten black voters of both sexes backing Democratic candidates.

A Latino and blue future for Texas

Latinos made up a significant number of eligible voters in several states with competitive races for U.S. Senate and governor, including Texas (30 percent), Arizona (23 percent), Florida (20 percent), and Nevada (19 percent). In these, Democrats won the Latino vote. In Texas, 64 percent of Latino voters pulled the lever for progressive Democrat Beto O’Rourke while 35 percent voted for Republican incumbent  Sen.Ted Cruz. In the race for governor, about half of the Latinos in Texas voted for the Democrat: 53 percent voted for Democrat Lupe Valdez and 42 percent voted for Republican incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott.

The City of Houston, and Harris County, which were the last battleground metropolitan area in Texas, flipped to the Democrats on Election Day. There the Democrats saw the end of very thin margins in the state’s biggest county in 2016 when Hillary Clinton garnered more than a 12 point margin of victory. Democrat O’Rourke received even more points this year in Harris County. In neighboring Fort Bend County, another suburb that had long been red but is now a battleground, O'Rourke nearly managed to swing the most ethnically diverse county in the nation. In 2016, Fort Bend went over to the Democrats by 12 points. In 2018, Gov. Abbott won by a razor-thin margin of but .3 percent. Couple with losses by Republicans in Hays and Williamson counties and the Dallas-Forth Worth metropolis, Republicans are facing significant challenges in the elections to come. 



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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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