Costa Mesa reflects O.C.’s Democratic flip, though Huntington, F.V. and Newport remain Republican

A statue of former President Ronald Reagan, an icon of Republican politics, adorns a Balboa Island waterfront home in Newport Beach in October.
(File Photo / Los Angeles Times)

Though Democrats this week overtook Republicans in voter registration in historically conservative Orange County, the “blue wave” was less dramatic on the county’s central coast.

O.C. now has 547,458 registered Democrats and 547,369 registered Republicans, according to statistics released Wednesday by the county registrar of voters office.

Costa Mesa reflected that pattern, with Democrats now outnumbering Republicans by about 500, or less than 1% of registrations.


As they typically have, Democrats hold a strong edge in Laguna Beach.

However, Huntington Beach, Fountain Valley and especially Newport Beach remain distinctly Republican.

In Costa Mesa, which had 56,201 registered voters this week, 18,058 were Republicans and 18,551 were Democrats.

The city actually tilted left in January, according to Mayor Katrina Foley.

Foley — who is running as a Democrat in the 2020 race for the state’s 37th Senate District seat in an attempt to bump longtime Republican incumbent John Moorlach — said local demographics are changing.

Young, educated progressives in their 20s and 30s are moving to Costa Mesa to raise families and are bringing their ideals with them, she said. Those voters are driven by issues over party, but Democrats share their stances, Foley said.

“They just have a different mind-set,” Foley said. “They care about the environment. They care about sensible gun [laws]. They care about diversity and women’s rights.”

They also care about access to housing and economic security and want respectful, kind and inclusive leadership, she added.

Republicans had pluralities in City Council District 1 — including Mesa Verde and the South Coast Collection area — and District 6, which covers virtually all of the Eastside.

Meanwhile, in District 4, which covers a dense swath of the Westside bounded by the Fairview Developmental Center, Harbor Boulevard, Monrovia Avenue and West 17th Street, Democrats outnumbered Republicans by nearly 3 to 1.

Former Costa Mesa mayor Jim Righeimer, who brought conservative ideals of fiscal restraint and streamlined government to his eight years on the council, said he expects Republicans will take back a couple of the congressional seats they lost in last year’s election, which flipped all four available Orange County seats from red to blue.

One of the most closely watched races in 2018 was in the 48th Congressional District, which includes Costa Mesa. Democrat Harley Rouda defeated 15-term Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, for whom Righeimer previously served as campaign chairman for years before backing Rohrabacher’s primary opponent.

Righeimer said Republicans had problematic candidates in the 2018 midterms, including Rohrabacher.

“That’s easy to run against, know what I mean?” he said.

Ousting Rohrabacher gave Orange County Democrats confidence and they have developed a political machine that “has done well,” Righeimer said. He expects Democratic registration to keep growing.

Shawn Steel, a Republican national committeeman for California whose wife, Orange County Supervisor Michelle Steel, is running for Congress next year in an attempt to unseat Rouda — told the Los Angeles Times that he blamed the GOP decline on the large increase in the number of voters who register with no party preference and on Republicans leaving the state because of high housing costs, poor schools and lackluster job opportunities.

“We’ve been an out-migration state for 20 years, and that’s particularly acute in the suburbs,” said Shawn Steel, who predicted the tide would turn because of overreach by Democratic politicians who control every arm of state government. “There is an opportunity as Democrats get more aggressive in Sacramento and alienate more people.”

Newport Beach is one of Orange County’s leaders in Republican registration — about 48% of its roughly 57,000 voters. Only Yorba Linda — the birthplace of Richard Nixon — and tiny Villa Park have greater Republican numbers.

Orange County’s Democratic strongholds are Santa Ana, Anaheim and Irvine. Laguna Beach also has a strong Democratic base, with about 39% of the voter rolls to the Republicans’ 30%.

In Huntington Beach, about 40% of voters are registered as Republican, compared with 29% for Democrats. In Fountain Valley, it’s about 38% to 30% in favor of the GOP.


Costa Mesa

Democrat: 33%

Republican: 32.1%

No party: 29%

Other party: 5.9%

Fountain Valley

Democrat: 29.9%

Republican: 38.3%

No party: 27.4%

Other party: 4.3%

Huntington Beach

Democrat: 29%

Republican: 39.8%

No party: 25.9%

Other party: 5.3%

Laguna Beach

Democrat: 38.9%

Republican: 29.5%

No party: 26%

Other party: 5.6%

Newport Beach

Democrat: 22.7%

Republican: 48%

No party: 24.7%

Other party: 4.6%

37th state Senate District

Democrat: 31.5%

Republican: 35.4%

No party: 28.4%

Other party: 4.8%

72nd state Assembly District

Democrat: 32.7%

Republican: 34.8%

No party: 27.9%

Other party: 4.6%

74th Assembly District

Democrat: 31.6%

Republican: 35.2%

No party: 28.3%

Other party: 4.9%

48th Congressional District

Democrat: 30.3%

Republican: 37.7%

No party: 27%

Other party: 5%

Source: Orange County registrar of voters office

Figures may not equal 100% due to rounding.

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