Orange County, one of the last bastions of Republicanism in California, has gone completely blue.
This is no small thing.
Orange County is where the conservative movement, driven in the 1960s by the John Birch Society, first planted its flag. It is Richard Nixon's place of birth and the refuge he sought to write his memoirs following his resignation. It is the home of Bob Dornan, the firebrand congressman dubbed "B-1 Bob" who made a presidential run in 1992 primarily to harangue Bill Clinton.
Now, at least for the time being, all seven congressional seats that reside in Orange County, in part or in whole, belong to Democrats.
That turnaround leaves Kern County as the only remaining island of red among counties that actually have people in them. That "deepest red" title, though, is one Kern County Republicans ought not take for granted.
Congressman Kevin McCarthy, who will be transitioning from majority leader to minority leader, still reigns supreme in his own 23rd District, even if his 14-member California congressional delegation was pounded: Democrats won six of the seven Republican-held seats they had targeted in this state.
Two of his closest allies in the state legislature, Assemblyman Vince Fong, a former top aide of McCarthy's, and state Sen.-elect Shannon Grove, won handily.
But Kern County and the southern San Joaquin Valley did not escape the blue wave that gave Democrats the House majority and restored California's Democratic bicameral supermajority.
In fact, some might regard the November midterms as a pretty good drenching, the aforementioned three races notwithstanding.
That seventh targeted Republican seat in the House — the one that seemed to have escaped a Democratic flip — is that of Hanford's David Valadao. His lead over Democrat TJ Cox of Fresno looked marginally secure the morning after Election Day, but on Tuesday it was a scant 968 votes out of more than 100,000 cast. Kern County still has 11,465 votes to process and count — not all, of course, will be for Valadao's 21st Congressional District — but Fresno County has about 30,000 remaining; Tulare County has almost 8,000, and Kings County has 1,750, and all are at least partially the 21st's.
It was a good day for Valley Democrats elsewhere, and especially for Latinos who seem to have benefited, in the final analysis, from an increase in Latino voter turnout. None benefited more than Sanger City Councilwoman Melissa Hurtado, who surprised many by ousting 14th District Sen. Andy Vidak, a Republican, by almost 10 percentage points and 12,000 votes. Her lead has only grown in the past week.
Same for Democrat Rudy Salas of Bakersfield, whose exhibition-game victory over Republican Justin Mendes of Hanford in the June primary came down to 252 votes. This one is a different story: Salas, the incumbent, leads by 7,700 votes and almost 12 percentage points.
The one that many in Kern County were watching bucked the wave, at least by one measure. Republican David Couch appears to have kept his 4th District seat on the Kern County Board of Supervisors — a district whose boundaries were redrawn specifically to encourage Latino representation. Although that three-way race has drawn closer in the past week, Couch still has a 7 percentage point lead over Democrat Grace Vallejo of Delano — likely an insurmountable lead of 1,586 votes.
Vallejo supporters say a second Latino name on the ballot, that of Jose Gonzalez, who captured 18 percent, cost her the victory; Couch supporters say she can't honestly claim she would have inherited all of Gonzalez's support, and in fact, Couch would have needed only a third of Gonzalez's 18 percent to win. It's moot now; Couch must defend his seat again in two years.
Voter turnout was great, for a midterm election, throughout the Valley. Kern County's was 52.6 percent; Tulare's was 56 percent; Kings' was 55 percent; and Fresno's was 49.9 percent. Midterm turnouts are typically closer to 30 percent.
The fact that turnout was strong and Democrats won more than they lost reinforces what we've long understood to be the case: Republicans vote and Democrats think about voting. This year they thought about it all the way to their polling stations.
We saw the effect in Orange County and we saw the effect throughout the Valley.
The exception, as usual, was McCarthy. While his margin decreased slightly, he still won handily against Democrat Tatiana Matta — a 64.4 percent near landslide. But, while dominating, that outcome represents his closest race ever.
Rep. Jeff Denham of Modesto, a reasonably well entrenched Republican, was beaten by Democrat Josh Harder. If Republicans in California don’t re-evaluate strategy, Denham told McClatchy News Service on Monday, even the reddest districts in California could be at risk in future elections.
He's talking about you, Kern County.