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The Political Landscape:

Costa Mesans vote for Obama

President-elect lost Orange County by a narrow margin, but took Costa Mesa by six points.

November 05, 2008|By Alan Blank and Paul Anderson

Conservatives in Orange County like to brag that it’s the most Republican county in the country. Or at least the second most, depending on whom you talk to.

Republicans hold a 13% edge in registered voters countywide, and Orange County Republicans provide serious financial support for conservative candidates all over the country. Locally there are 34% more Republicans than Democrats in Costa Mesa and almost three times more Republicans than Democrats in Newport Beach.

It’s not a stretch to say that neither city is a likely pickup for any Democratic hopeful, no matter what the year.

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But in an election when many red strongholds across the country were painted blue by Barack Obama, the president-elect won Costa Mesa by six points. And he narrowly lost the county by only a few percentage points.

Let that sink in for a moment. A Democratic presidential candidate hasn’t won Orange County since FDR.

No such victory to match Costa Mesa’s, though, was notched in Newport Beach, which John McCain won by more than 15 points, but with a 3-1 registration advantage even that statistic is not one that the Republican Party is eager to trumpet.

Laura Dietz, a board member of the Newport Harbor Republican Women, doesn’t think that the trend will necessarily last, though.

“It could snap back in four years because every election is different. Every election is in a different context, and the context of this election dramatically changed when the financial market went bananas,” Dietz said.

She thinks Costa Mesa’s generally younger population and the presence of Orange Coast College helped boost the Obama vote.

Melahat Rafiei, executive director of the Democratic Party of Orange County, says frustration with Republican economic policies could make the swing stick, though.

“Countywide we came within three percentage points of McCain. To be that close in Orange County is amazing,” Rafiei said, looking back to 2004 when John Kerry was overwhelmingly defeated in the county.

Either way, the county is certainly not a bellwether for the rest of the state, which has gone consistently Democratic in presidential elections for many years, with Orange County an anomalous footnote.

It’s OK to talk about politics at their table

Scott Baugh and Frank Barbaro, Orange County’s top political bosses, on Tuesday had their traditional election-night dinner again.

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