OC GOP's Apocalypse Now

The party's over for Republicans in Orange County and California

"It wasn't easy," she said. "I'd say the reason [for winning] was hard work. No, really. Loretta told me that there is no substitution for knocking on doors, meeting people and attending community events. People want to meet you, see you. That's what I did. Jason, my campaign manager, targeted certain areas we needed to win. We started walking neighborhoods in July, and we never stopped. I had so many people tell me, 'You are the first candidate who has ever bothered to knock on my door.' We worked our butts off."

According to Quirk-Silva, her critics—some of whom she believes are misogynistic—habitually underestimate her. "My first council race against Mike Clesceri was very much like this one against Norby," she said. "Some people said, 'Oh, you were lucky. You didn't win. Clesceri lost.' Those are the kind of things I heard, and I'm hearing them again after this election."

Her list of key reasons for her victory includes the strength and determination of her candidacy, the efforts of her numerous volunteers, voters' desire for political change, and her campaign's early recognition of a reality she believes Norby never saw.

Quirk-Silva sold herself as a “teacher, mayor and leader”
Quirk-Silva sold herself as a “teacher, mayor and leader”

"After redistricting, it's a fundamentally different district," she said. "There are new demographics. It's now more diverse. Could I have beaten Norby in the old 72nd District? That would have been a stretch."

As evidence Norby was out of touch, she noted that his campaign literature used a controversial image. The picture showed the assemblyman standing with Marilyn Davenport, an elderly, white, Republican Party Central Committee representative who won national infamy in 2011 when the Weekly revealed she'd emailed a racist image depicting Obama and his parents as chimpanzees.

"Okay, that didn't help," Baugh wryly observed.

Allan Bartlett, a longtime Republican activist in Irvine and a past member of the GOP central committee, was more blunt. Bartlett called the Davenport mailer—which was produced by consultant John Lewis, who worked for corrupt Sheriff Mike Carona before his FBI and IRS arrest—"political malpractice." And he added, "How stupid can you be?"

In the final stages of the race, potential major Democratic donors finally accepted polling results that showed Quirk-Silva could win. Norby's camp had been bragging it was in the lead by double digits and publicly held the challenging campaign in contempt. But the rhetoric was betrayed by repeated, anxious demands for a debate. (As a rule of thumb, incumbents avoid debates in close elections if they believe they are in the lead.) It spoke volumes about the state of the race in October that Quirk-Silva was the one who didn't go out of her way to share a stage.

Democratic Party committees around the state, labor unions and corporations such as Disney didn't mistake the signals. A supermajority in Sacramento obviously was within reach. According to independent journalist John Hrabe, those groups decided in the final weeks of the race to funnel more than $292,000 in contributions to defeat Norby.

Given her past, Quirk-Silva won't be surprised to learn Baugh isn't willing to give her credit for her victory. He insists her last-minute financial windfall from out-of-district sources made her the winner. "That's what was determinative in the election," said Baugh. "The Democrats wanted it more. They went into overdrive to pick up the seat."

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What will it take for the GOP to go into overdrive? You have to wonder what other motivation Republicans need to revamp their efforts. Consider these trends and facts for the party faithful:

• Since 2004, the GOP has lost 31,000 registrations countywide, while Democrats picked up 80,000 new voters.

• In the June open-primary election, Dianne Feinstein, a San Francisco Democrat, grabbed 53,000 more votes in OC than the second-place finisher, Republican Elizabeth Emken.

• Orange County's congressional delegation was entirely Republican in 1996, but following the recent election, it will include three Democratic representatives—Loretta Sanchez, Linda Sanchez and Alan Lowenthal.

• In the new 72nd Assembly District, voters soundly rejected the GOP-backed candidate, unscrupulous Los Alamitos City Councilman Troy Edgar, by handing a 16,000-vote win to a more independent Republican, Travis Allen.

• In Irvine, Republican contributors or operatives such as Adam Probolsky, Patrick Strader, Jimmy Camp and Dave Gilliard betrayed local GOP candidates by aiding the campaign of liberal Democrat Larry Agran, who has a history of giving allies lucrative, no-bid city contracts.

• In 1984, Ronald Reagan defeated Democrat Walter Mondale in Orange County by a margin of 429,000 votes; in 2004, George W. Bush beat Democrat John Kerry by 223,000 votes; and in 2012, Mitt Romney captured just 70,000 more votes than Barack Obama.

Such statistics alarm activists.

"I honestly don't know if the party can be saved in California," said Bartlett. "I worry that [maybe] we haven't hit rock-bottom."

*     *     *

It's a certainty that if Republicans don't improve relations with Latinos, the fastest-growing segment of voters, they are doomed statewide and in ever-expanding sections of north and central OC. But some Republicans seem determined to continually offend. From his perch inside an overwhelmingly white and Republican coastal congressional district, Rohrabacher, for example, has dismissively called Latinos "Pedro" or "illegals." The tactic delights the right-wing fringe nuts he parties with at local bars, but it sabotages GOP-outreach efforts.

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