Democrats, Republicans are 'friends' at the fair

The Orange County Fair always features a wide array of animals, such as cows, bunnies and sheep.

As it happens, there are donkeys and elephants, too.

Those are a bit harder to find, but in two small white tents near Centennial Farm, fairgoers can discover them in the form of Democrats and Republicans.

Not far from the walk-through butterfly exhibit, pairs of volunteers for the nation's two major political parties staff identical-size booths. The workers sit behind long tables during all hours of the fair, with voter registration forms on hand.

Representatives of both sides said they would help any voter sign up, regardless of party affiliation. Still, campaign paraphernalia covered the tables Wednesday, and identifying political party signs hung overhead.

"But we're friends," said Democratic volunteer and Corona del Mar resident Beverly White.

Positioned amid a row of 10 organizations, the Democrats and Republicans were separated by a stall dedicated to awareness of human trafficking. "Should be something we can both support," said Republican volunteer Dawn Hammond of Santa Ana.

On the Republican side, pamphlets were arranged neatly, adhering to a strict rule of one item per candidate, be it brochures for Michelle Steel (Orange County supervisor candidate), handouts for Andy Whallon (congressional candidate in the 47th District) or cardboard fans for Rep. Ed Royce.

The Democrats' display was more haphazard, with business cards for Democrats of North Orange County on the table, cards for Pete Aguilar (congressional candidate in District 31) arranged in a stand-up display and a sign for Jose Solorio (state Senate candidate in District 34) propped up in a plastic holder.

There was a cutout of Ronald Reagan on one side, a cutout of Barack Obama on the other. There were the interior red walls of the GOP tent with clean, white phrasing, contrasted with the Democrats' tacked-up donkey outlines that had been colored in by children. There was a collection box of letters for troops on the Republican side and various sugary incentives on the Democrats' side, including a jar of red licorice and a bowl of mini Tootsie Pops.

As 5-year-old twins and a 6-year-old grabbed lollipops from a container, Democratic volunteer Andrew Scott of Huntington Beach reminded them, "When you get old enough, you vote Democrat, OK?"

As the afternoon pushed toward 3 p.m., two people had registered to vote at the Republican table, while the Democrats had registered six. Some were registering for the first time; others needed to change their address.

"There's not much rivalry, actually," according to Republican volunteer John Daniel of Buena Park, explaining that they were there to provide a public service.

"We need two parties," Scott said. "One party to want to spend the money on things, on people, and the other party to make sure we have enough."

Along the row, in an area officially dubbed the "OC Connection," fairgoers also could find booths for support groups such as Overeaters Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous, far from the fair's sizzling bacon-wrapped turkey legs and beer stands.

The Republicans were flanked to their right by groups related to deafness, alcoholism and drug addiction. To the Democrats' left were Overeaters Anonymous, a foster-care agency, a weight-loss group and a rip-current awareness team.

"We have nothing to say about political stuff," said Alcoholics Anonymous volunteer Randy Powell.

Nonprofits and government agencies can apply for spaces on the row and must follow rules for behavior, such as not eating in the booth, not selling items and operating according to schedule, said Joan Hamill, community relations director for the fair.

The groups pay a small fee to cover tent rental, she said.

"These groups have a lot of great information that they can share with the public," Hamill said.

The tent walls largely prevented interaction among the volunteers unless they stepped outside.

Unable to see into the Republican side, White asked a reporter, "Did you get more from the Republicans than you did from us?"

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