Democratic Surge in OC is Not Just About Trump

Henry Vandermeir addresses the DPOC Central Committee during officer elections January 14, 2013. (Photo: Lou Delgado)

Henry Vandermeir addresses the DPOC Central Committee during officer elections January 14, 2013. (Photo: Lou Delgado)

The OC Register’s Martin Wisckol penned this past weekend’s story about surging Democratic voter registration in Orange County and it’s an excellent piece to read.  And I can’t disagree that GOP Presidential nominee Donald Trump has helped in turning Orange County bluer than it’s been, but I think Wisckol undersells the role DPOC Chair Henry Vandermeir has played in growing the party.

From Martin’s story:

A surge in Democratic voter registration has cut Republicans’ advantage in Orange County to less than 6 percentage points and has doubled the number of Democratic cities over the past year.

The Republican margin has been shrinking since 1990, when the GOP edge was 22 points. But in the past six months, the pace of change has been four times as fast as the 26-year average – due in part to the GOP’s controversial presidential nominee. That could hurt the local Republicans in November’s down-ticket races.

“Donald Trump has become our best marketing tool,” said Henry Vandermeir, chairman of the Democratic Party of Orange County. “He’s insulted pretty much every constituency in this county, which has helped drive Democratic registration and turnout to new highs.”

Vandermeir’s registration efforts have gotten a boost from other quarters. In addition to the county Democratic Party, at least four left-leaning groups – including MoveOn.org – have been registering voters in Orange County. County GOP Chairman Fred Whitaker said his party has gotten virtually no outside help.

Orange County was long touted as the nation’s most Republican county. The modern-era high point was 1990, when the GOP’s 56 percent share of the electorate translated to a 22-point advantage over Democrats. (In 1928, Republicans were at 73 percent.)

That edge has slowly dropped, to 17 percentage points in 2000 and to 11 points in 2010.

Republicans are now 39.7 percent of county voters, an all-time low. Democrats are at 34 percent, their highest since 1992. Voters with no party preference account for 22.6 percent, down from the all-time high of 23.6 percent last year.

That means Republicans’ 8-percentage point edge in February has shrunk to 5.7 points.

The long-term trend is largely due to shifting demographics. Latinos, who favor the Democratic Party over the GOP by more than 2-1, are 18 percent of the electorate and growing. And voters ages 18-34, who heavily favored Republicans in 2002, are now more likely to register as Democrats.

Republicans still prevail among voters in 24 of the county’s 34 cities, although the three biggest – Anaheim, Santa Ana and Irvine – are Democratic. In July, Tustin became the 10th city in the county to turn Democrat. That’s twice the total of a year ago. Fullerton is poised to follow suit, with the shrinking Republican advantage there down to 144 voters.

The other Democratic cities are Buena Park, Garden Grove, La Habra, La Palma, Laguna Beach and Stanton.

Balma anticipates the Democratic surge of the past six months will slow to closer to the 26-year average. At that rate, county Democrats would surpass Republicans in 10 years. Vandermeir also expects it to slow, but not until after the November election. He expects Democrats to be the county’s dominant party in three or four years.

Vandermeir took over the DPOC chair from Frank Barbaro three years ago and helped establish city-based Democratic Clubs that drive voter registration, provide a venue for candidates to network, and forums to talk about progressive issues and plan action.  Its not just that Democratic voters have the lead in 10 of the county’s 34 cities, its that we lead in the county’s three top population centers.

Take Irvine for example.  The Democrats for Greater Irvine, led by Iyad Afalqa, has driven Democratic voter registration to a new high in the city — more than 3,000 registered voter advantage.

From Afalqa: “The Democrats of Greater Irvine (DGI) is proud of how far we came together to turn our city blue. I am honored to be the Chair of DGI and serve along side our committed board members.  For now, here the Irvine Voter Registration Update as of August 1st, 2016: Total Registered Voters: 105,764; Democrats: 36,561 (34.6%); Republicans: 33,237 (31.4%); No Political Party: 32,105 (30.4%). Democrats have a + 3,324 advantage (+3.2%) over Republicans in the city of Irvine.”

And much of the credit for the creation of local Democratic clubs and new voter registration here goes to Vandermeir who leads this Party in spite of sharp divisions from certain party activists.

Vandermeir has successfully herded cats for his term as chair and the fruits of his management skills are found in growing party registration, healthier financial statements, and good people managing jobs to move the party forward.  And of course, there’s room for improvement.  Democrats still have a tough time running for state office and for city/school board elections in certain cities. but its much better than it used to be.

From Wisckol’s story, OC GOP Chair Fred Whitaker suggests many Democrats aren’t that excited about Hillary Clinton at the top of the ticket.  And for those who supported Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), that’s probably true.  But there are huge numbers of Hillary supporters in OC who have been with her from the beginning.  And unlike Whitaker’s Republican Party, I don’t see our party leaders denouncing our nominee for president like we’re seeing on the Republican side.

So thanks Donald Trump for your role in driving voter registration in OC, but let’s not forget the behind the scenes work and leadership of our county’s party chair.