Beneath a warm sun along the coast of Laguna Beach on Feb. 5, noisy children ignored the pleas of their parents to splash in the end of spent, cold waves. Camera-toting tourists, many from Asia, turned their backs on the Pacific Ocean to snap pictures of the famous oceanfront village made grotesquely infamous by MTV. Hand-holding elderly couples sat on park benches to stare contently at the dark outline of Catalina Island and occasional passing sailboats.
Such calm scenes masked a revolution—seriously, a revolution—that occurred throughout Orange County that day, presidential-primary election day. This is no longer the OC your daddy knew. We've ended an era that's at least 100 years old.
But the seismic event went undetectable to the naked eye. What's taken place surely hasn't sunk in yet, especially among the local power brokers. They are accustomed to making decisions behind closed mahogany doors, and then, if they remember, allowing the rest of us the honor of serving as a rubber stamp.
Super Tuesday's vote flipped the establishment upside-down. If you need an image to support this claim, look no further than GOP operative (and chiropractic insurance king) Michael J. Schroeder staring solemnly at polling returns on a computer screen, sipping red wine and threatening to boycott the general election.
You would be depressed, too, if you were the likes of Schroeder, a former California Republican Party chairman who headed Mitt Romney's OC campaign. Imagine the turmoil in Schroeder's brain when he came face-to-face with this monumental, earth-moving fact: Hillary Clinton won more votes in Orange County than Republicans John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson, Duncan Hunter, Sam Brownback and Tom Tancredo combined.
It gets worse. Though much of the local power structure (and the mouthpieces who feed at its trough) vocally backed Romney, the self-styled "true conservative in the race" barely edged—are you seated?—Democrat Barack Obama here, the heart of Reagan Country.
One more fact underscores the revolution. In 2000, the last time no incumbent sought the White House, OC Republicans supplied 458,025 primary votes for the top two GOP candidates, George W. Bush and John McCain. Eight years later, the top six Republican presidential candidates mustered a combined total of 232,000 votes.
Ponder that pathetic total for a moment.
That's about a 50 percent Republican drop in turnout, while local support for the Democratic candidates swelled during the same period by 37,110 local voters.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Michael Capaldi, former head of the conservative Lincoln Club, told an Orange County Register reporter that Republicans are "intently [sic] confused." So is Fox News. Its commentators spent election night proudly hailing our county as the unyielding bastion of conservatism in California. They love that Orange County is steeped in largely right-wing—often embarrassing—lore. Say "OC" to the rest of the nation, and they're likely to think of . . . okay, sure, Disneyland, but also Dana Rohrabacher, rich brats, gravity-defying boob jobs, illegal-immigrant-haters and puffy-haired televangelists who buy $3 million mansions solely as playgrounds for their beloved pets.
The more I think about it, the more I think Schroeder and his pal Scott Baugh, boss of the OC GOP, must have anticipated bad news for their interests. Instead of throwing their usual soiree at the Sutton Place Hotel in Newport Beach, they huddled amongst themselves. In some rich guy's mansion. Behind a guarded gate in a private community.
Boys, you can hide, but you can't run. For this election, at least, the real OC has turned out to be a very different place than you once thought it was.