Reiff: Political Pros Handicap OC’s Pivotal House Races

Shawn Steel and Michael Moodian have different political perspectives but similar takes on November’s Congressional elections: All four of Orange County’s traditionally safe GOP seats are up for grabs.

“I’m an Orange County resident, I’ve been here my entire life… I never thought I would see this, where we would actually have in deep red districts Democrats with a real shot at winning,” Chapman University political science professor Michael Moodian said on the “Inside OC with Rick Reiff” public affairs show.

Shawn Steel, Republican National Committeeman and former chair of the California Republican Party, said he was “more optimistic than some” about the GOP’s prospects but “very concerned.”

“There are four seats at risk,” Steel said. “My side is still awash in victory in 2016 and is a bit asleep at the wheel so we need to stimulate them.”

“In many ways it’s a reaction to a very unpopular president,” said Moodian, a registered Democrat. “We have changing demographics in the county, and this change is being driven by the young in the county, and it’s being driven by our Latino electorate and our Asian American electorate. The Republican electorate in the county tends to be older and that’s not a growth demographic.”

Orange County is a key battleground in the Congressional election, which will determine control of Congress and possibly the fate of the Trump presidency. If Democrats take control of the House – and polling indicates they have a good chance – they’re widely expected to launch impeachment proceedings against the president.

With so much at stake, both parties are spending unprecedented amounts in the county. Steel said Democrats easily spent $10 million and the Republicans at least half that amount here during the primary campaign, and “in the general it will be a lot more than that.”

Donald Trump, the first Republican presidential candidate who failed to carry Orange County since the Great Depression, looms large in these races.

“If I were a Democrat running for office I would do everything I could do to attach Trump to my opponent,” Moodian said.

Steele said criticizing Trump can work for the Democratic candidates “only if you go after Trump the personality, and not Trump the president. The Democrats get into trouble when they start talking about impeachment, they start talking about sanctuary cities, and they start talking about Medicare for all  illegal aliens… Most independents are not going to buy that kind of sales talk.”

Immigration is a “huge” issue in these races, Steel said.

“Republicans, Americans love immigration,” said Steel, citing foreign-born GOP officeholders in Orange County including his wife, OC Supervisor Michelle Steel. “But illegal immigrants that are here by jumping in line, by getting the benefits, by not paying their fair share, by actually cheating the system by creating a new criminal underclass, most Orange Countians don’t like that.”

“There is still that base that is a vocal strong base that votes in Orange County that has this tough view toward immigration,” Moodian said. “But also we are in a county where roughly 30 percent of the residents are foreign-born, and I think this is a topic that Trump has turned into a very ugly political topic.”

President Obama’s recent campaign stop at the Anaheim Convention Center is another indication of the importance Democrats are attaching to the OC races.

“You know how many people showed up to see him for free? 950 people,” Steel said. “I personally hosted Ben Carson with over 10,000 people when he was running for president.”

Moodian countered that Obama’s appearance was invitation-only for campaign volunteers. “ It was scheduled at the last minute, it was meant to be a small event.” Moodian reminded that when Obama spoke at the UCI commencement in 2014 he filled most of Angel Stadium.

Moodian and Steel handicapped the OC races this way:

39thDistrict (Ed Royce’s seat): Republican Young Kim “is now beginning to show space” between herself and Democrat Gil Cisneros, Steel said. “That’ll be a tough one, I think it could go either way,” Moodian said.

45th District: Voter registration numbers mean “it’s going to be tough” for Democratic challenger Katie Porter to unseat incumbent Mimi Walters, Moodian said. “Mimi is in the best situation, she gets reelected,” said Steele.

48th District: “It’s going to be close” but Democratic challenger Harley Rouda “may be able to edge that out,” Moodian said. Steele said “it’s a tough race” but “good” for incumbent Dana Rohrabacher because of the Republican voter registration edge.

49thDistrict (Darrel Issa’s seat): Moodian said Democrat Mike Levin “is a favorite to beat” Republican Diane Harkey. “Harkey’s got a heck of a challenge. We’ll see if Orange County is going to overcome the deficit she might have in San Diego,” Steel said.

The show is airing this week on PBS SoCal. (Show times here).  The show is also on YouTube along with the post-show “Open Mic” segment.

Opinions expressed in editorials belong to the authors and not Voice of OC.

Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue or others please contact Voice of OC Involvement Editor Theresa Sears at TSears@voiceofoc.org