A couple hundred people tuned in Saturday morning to the Republican Party of Orange County’s virtual “Take Back the House” rally, held via Zoom amid ongoing concerns about the coronavirus.
The four local Republicans vying for targeted House seats on Nov. 3 took turns on camera, from their homes and offices, boasting about their credentials and campaigns. They also painted the Democratic incumbents, who flipped their seats to blue in 2018, as too far left for their purple districts and slammed them for taking advantage of a proxy voting system that lets them temporarily avoid traveling to Washington, D.C. during the pandemic.
Though registered Democrats now outnumber Republicans in the county by nearly 40,000 voters, state and local GOP leaders said they’re encouraged by recent election results, including Mike Garcia flipping the 25th District seat to red during a special election last month.
“I believe that we have done everything that we should be doing to build the infrastructure that is necessary to execute on a fantastic plan,” said state party chair Jessica Millan Patterson, touting that the party has recruited more than 25,000 new volunteers over the past year and held more than 550 online training sessions since stay-at-home orders took effect in March.
Most analysts predict Democrats will maintain control of the House after November, but Patterson called Orange County “ground zero” for that fight. Nationally, Republicans need to pick up 18 seats Nov. 3 to gain a majority.
Former state assemblywoman Young Kim spoke more than others about what she hopes to accomplish if she wins against Rep. Gil Cisneros, D-Yorba Linda, for the targeted 39th District seat, covering northeast Orange County plus chunks of Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties. Kim said she’ll fight to lower taxes and healthcare costs, to strengthen schools and to make the country better prepared for future health crises so that more people can achieve the “American dream” she experienced when her family immigrated from South Korea in 1975.
Kim said her campaign has made more than 200,000 voter contacts, with Patterson calling Kim the “energizer bunny.”
For the narrowly red 45th District in central OC, GOP challenger Greg Raths said freshman Rep. Katie Porter, D-Irvine, “doesn’t fit the mold.”
The Mission Viejo Councilman spent most of this time during the rally talking about his family, his background as a retired Marine colonel and his campaign. Raths said he put together a “brand new team” after the March 3 primary, where he beat out five other Republican challengers to advance to November. As the county reopens from state-mandated closures to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Raths said his campaign is getting ready to hit the streets again.
The pandemic was a major focus for Michelle Steel, who’s challenging Rep. Harley Rouda, D-Laguna Beach, in coastal OC’s 48th District. Steel is chair of the Orange County Board of Supervisors, which has overseen the county’s response to the public health crisis. And she touted the county’s low infection rate, with Orange County boasting a fewer number of infected patients but also a lower volume of testing than neighboring counties.
Steel had the harshest words for her opponent, calling Rouda “reckless” and “irrelevant.” But to compete with him, Steel said her campaign needs to raise more money, saying that former House speaker Newt Gingrich will be calling in from Italy during a fundraiser for her later this month.
For the 49th District, which includes southern OC and northern San Diego County, GOP candidate Brian Maryott said he has nearly 100 volunteers and roughly 40 high schoolers who are working from home to make phone calls and send mailers to help him challenge Rep. Mike Levin, D-San Juan Capistrano.
Maryott, who is a San Juan Capistrano council member and businessman, spent much of his time criticizing Levin’s positions. That includes the incumbent’s support for universal healthcare and the Green New Deal, which Maryott called an “economic suicide pact.”
None of the speakers mentioned George Floyd or discussed the surge of racial justice demonstrations that continue to sweep the nation in the wake of Floyd’s death at the hand of Minneapolis police officers.
Steel criticized Rouda for attending a police brutality demonstration in Huntington Beach. Raths posted the comment “Support our law enforcement.” And Republican Party of Orange County Chairman Fred Whitaker slammed the use of “bricks” and “riots.”
“That’s the French Revolution, not the American Revolution,” he said.
Maryott said he was initially skeptical that the virtual event would feel much like a rally. But he said he changed his mind when he saw dozens of people using Zoom’s chat function to interact and voice support for candidates, with comments such as “Made of Steel” or “#RathsAgainstTheMachine.”
Participants also asked a number of questions in the chat feature, including how the Republicans planned to combat voter fraud. But some said they were signing off from the rally disappointed that the party leaders and candidates chose not to respond to questions.
The rally is meant to kick off the party’s “Summer of Engagement,” which runs June 13 to Aug. 31. Whitaker said volunteers who make the most calls for candidates this summer will win prizes including VIP tickets to the party’s Flag Day celebration, a MAGA hat and a Trump 2020 lawn sign.