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GOP Registration Lead Hits 15-Year High in Orange County

Times Staff Writer

Registered Republicans outnumber Democrats in traditionally conservative Orange County by the widest margin in 15 years, county Registrar of Voters Alvin E. Olson reported Friday.

Republicans credit their success to continued support for President Reagan--and to a relentless voter registration drive in the county.

Of 1,067,020 county voters registered by Dec. 22, when year-end figures were compiled, 562,190, or 52.7%, were registered Republican compared with 390,513, or 36.6%, registered as Democrats. The last time the Republican edge was this great was in 1970, when the GOP had 53.7% of the registered voters and the Democrats had 41.1%.

Except for two brief periods, Republicans have held a registration lead in the county for decades. Nevertheless, county Republican Chairman Thomas A. Fuentes said the party has been working hard to widen that gap to strengthen its prospects in statewide races.

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“We are the anchor to the right. We are the bastion of the Republican votes that counterbalances what is done in West Los Angeles and San Francisco by the Democrats,” Fuentes said.

“Orange County is depended on by the California Republican Party to deliver this state if we ever have hopes of a statewide Republican candidate being elected,” he said, noting that Orange County provided the margin of victory for both Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.) and Gov. George Deukmejian in the 1982 elections. The county also gave Ronald Reagan a 450,000-vote cushion in the 1984 presidential election, when he easily carried the state.

Republicans are bringing in at least 500 new registrations a week, said Ruth Renert, a clerk at the county registrar of voters. From Oct. 10 to Dec. 22, Republican registrations increased by 10,293. In the same period, Democratic registrations rose by only 155, according to figures from Olson’s office.

The Republican year-round recruiting drive has included paying “bounties” to local political clubs for each new Republican registered; setting up registration booths at shopping malls, the Orange County Fair and even an occasional local fish fry, and direct-mail appeals to independents or to Democrats in traditionally conservative districts inviting them to become Republicans.

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County Democratic Party leaders said the Republican lead in registrations is not unexpected. Democrats had no voter registration drive this year.

Democrats Plan Effort

In the last month, however, county Democrats have been planning a major registration effort. Party officials declined to describe their strategy other than to say the campaign should be visible in early 1986 and should narrow the registration gap.

In the coming election-year drive, “obviously we won’t be able to catch them (the Republicans),” said Howard Adler, a Democratic Central Committee member. “But we are planning to make key districts . . . more competitive--and more Democratic.”

Hazel Stover, vice chairman of the Democratic Central Committee of Orange County, said the Democrats will be doing “everything we can to increase voter registration. But we have no illusion that this county is going to a be a Democratic stronghold.”

Democrats Led in 1979

The last time Orange County Democrats held a majority among registed voters was 1979, when Jimmy Carter was President and county Democratic leaders mounted a major registration drive. But Republicans recovered the lead the next year.

Meanwhile, Republicans said they had been working to make all districts, especially the 72nd Assembly District, more Republican. The district is the only one in the county in which Democrats hold a registration edge and is the only one represented by a Democrat, Richard Robinson, who narrowly won reelection in 1984.

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