Friday, June 19, 2009

Politics: The New Orange County?

TORONTO, ONTARIO - I could hardly believe my eyes recently when reading the politics site when I saw the headline "Placer is the new Orange." What I suspected to the be the meaning proved to be accurate--the article by Tom Schaller made the case that while California's Orange County had been symbolic of the conservative movement in the Nixon and Reagan eras, it has become a "purple" county that almost voted for Barack Obama. Instead, it is Placer County with its exurban and rural, low minority population that most closely matches the demographics of the Republican party and has the voting pattern to show for it.

Interestingly, the town of Placerville that has been in my by-line on three trips since this blog began is not in Placer County, but in El Dorado County immediately to the south--which has very similar demographics, and is home to the Mountain Democrat newspaper that is decidedly not Democratic in the sense of supporting the Democratic party. However, that doesn't mean that I haven't spent time in Placer County, which includes the effective Sacramento suburb and major rail yard location of Roseville as well as much of the I-80 Donner Pass route over the Sierra Nevada mountains--I have been to places like Roseville and Auburn within the past few years. Furthermore, Sacramento media dominates both Placer and El Dorado Counties, so the 4th District Congressional race cited in Schaller's article was one I followed reasonably closely.

The concept of carpet-bagging really was a factor in the Congressional campaign between Democrat Charlie Brown and Republican Tom McClintock. Arguably the best ad on either side in the entire race came from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, showing how McClintock had moved around the large state of California to his political advantage. It's still available to watch on YouTube. While Brown campaigned more like Montana senator Max Baucus than San Francisco representative Nancy Pelosi anyway, his portrait of McClintock as not really being from the district seemed to resonate most strongly with the people I talked to in the region.

Of course, McClintock won despite that in a district that went solidly for John McCain, and indeed the region seems to be one especially interested in gun rights with significant anti-immigrant sentiment. Yet, the very fact that Roseville has the largest population in the county and is a suburb of Sacramento is indeed symbolic of what some say is the impending fate of the Republican party. As more left-leaning residents move farther out in the suburbs, the demographics of Placer County will change. If the Republican Party doesn't broaden its appeal, it will not only have lost its hold on Orange County, it will lose its hold on Placer County as well--on that point, I agree with Schaller completely.

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