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As Orange County faces questions about its reputation as a Republican bastion, Rep. Devin Nunes told party donors on Saturday night that their pushback was key to fighting the majority Democrats’ power in the state.
“It is so critical for us to win here and keep winning here,” the Tulare Republican said.
Nunes was the keynote speaker of the Orange County GOP’s annual Flag Day fundraiser. The event was a testament to the vulnerability of some of his fellow Republicans — members of Congress who were reelected last fall but also saw Hillary Clinton win their districts.
Protesters greeted attendees on their way into the Hotel Irvine. And several of the lawmakers who are under pressure ahead of the 2018 midterm were at the fundraiser.
“If not for Orange County, I might be standing here, but it wouldn’t be as a congressman,” Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista) told the crowd. His district straddles Orange and San Diego counties, and he was sent back to Congress by just 2,300 votes in November.
The gathering came at a time when the GOP brand is in peril in Orange County, where voters favored a Democrat for president for the first time since the Depression. Four Orange County House seats are key to Democratic efforts to retake Congress next year.
But the roughly 1,000 attendees were unfazed.
“Bring it on,” said Fred Whitaker, the county party chairman. He noted that national Democrats planned to set up an office nearby to challenge the vulnerable Republicans here. “We save those seats, we save the House, we do our part.”
Nunes also spoke about a recent $52-billion gas tax passed in Sacramento, which he argued should be the focus of a recall ballot effort. “It’s going to be up to folks like you to pass initiatives. We need to get some common sense back in the state.”
The congressman spent much of his remarks excoriating the media, including the Los Angeles Times. He suggested at one point that the media was partly responsible for the shooting at a GOP baseball practice this week that left Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana critically wounded.
“You could almost see this coming when it happened last week because the level of civil discourse has reached a point that I’ve never seen in my time in office,” he said when Whitaker asked him about the shooting. “And I think finally what manifested itself after the election is that you finally had the curtains come down on the relationship the Democratic Party and the extreme left have with the media, the universities, Hollywood, we could go on and on and on.
“What you’re seeing is a political party not willing to accept what happened in the last election,” Nunes continued. “Hopefully it’s a warning sign and hopefully the media will get back to at least pretending to do some real investigative work.”
Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, addressed the ongoing investigation into Russia's involvement in the 2016 elections, from which he has recused himself because he is under Ethics Committee investigation for his handling of classified material related to the inquiry.
“All the major papers in the country did a total character assassination on me because I was telling the truth – there was never any collusion between Donald Trump and the Russians,” he said. “Donald Trump and his agenda have stumbled out of the gate because you have an opposing political party develop a narrative, never let it go, continue to this day, and now we have a special counsel who, if you believe the leaks, is not looking at Russian collusion anymore. Was this an investigation in search of a crime?”
The audience cheered and applauded as Nunes spoke.