More than 27,000 Republican voters in Orange County have switched to no party preference in the past six years.
That’s according to Orange County Registrar of Voters data obtained by the county GOP, said its executive director, Randall Avila. And in an effort to “bring these Republicans home,” Avila said, Orange Country Republicans will host a series of re-registration trainings for volunteers ahead of the 2024 elections.
The idea, he said, is to train volunteers who can find and meet with “these no party preference, formerly Republican, voters.” Volunteers will be given a rundown of the data, who the voters are and how to “re-register” them as Republican voters — both on paper and online.
“It’s not terribly difficult or complex; it’s more of just talking to your neighbors because we’ll assign most of the volunteers to their own neighborhoods,” Avila said. “Maybe they know the Joneses down the street, maybe they talk politics, maybe they walk their dogs together or see them at the park. Maybe they’re on the Little League team together. And maybe they didn’t even know that their friend was no longer Republican, but they know that they share conservative values.”
In Orange County, the largest withdrawal of Republicans from the party came in 2019, the year the voter registration advantage switched from a Republican to a Democratic plurality, Avila said.
Democrats have since widened the gap, accounting for 37.6% of the county’s registered voters, Republicans for 33.1% and no party preference for 23.5%, according to the Registrar of Voters.
Despite Democrats’ advantage, Republican candidates at the state and local level had a strong showing last year: Orange County voters chose Republican challenger Brian Dahle over incumbent Gov. Gavin Newsom as well as Republican candidates for lieutenant governor, secretary of state, controller, treasurer, attorney general and insurance commissioner.
“I think we have a strong advantage on no party preference voters and independents,” Avila said. “And especially in a presidential year, that’s going to depend on who our nominee is.”
The county Republican Party has already sent volunteers to canvass some of these former Republicans, “not for the point of registration but more of a fact-finding mission,” Avila said.
“When we talked to these voters at their doors, we asked them if they were willing to share with us the reason for their party change,” Avila said. “And we found basically an even split in three ways.”
The first group, he said, are individuals who weren’t aware they were registered as no party preference.
In the rollout of California’s “Motor Voter” program, which automatically registers eligible Californians completing a driver’s license, state identification or change of address transaction through the DMV to vote, the DMV made processing mistakes with 23,000 Californians, including assigning some to political parties they didn’t choose.
The Orange County Republicans’ data showed that some 13,000 Orange County Republican voters switched to no party preference through the DMV. Some have told OC GOP volunteers, Avila said, that their party preference was incorrectly changed at the DMV.
The remaining two groups, Avila said, are voters who feel the Republican Party is “changing in the wrong direction.” While one group believes the GOP “isn’t supporting Donald Trump enough,” there is another that felt the party is headed “too far toward” the former president, said Avila.
Part of the latter group is former Westminster councilmember and one-term state Rep. Tyler Diep, a former Republican who re-registered as no party preference in 2021, shortly after the Jan. 6 insurrection and attack on the Capitol.
“I was pretty appalled by what happened on Jan. 6 and then afterward when many of the leaders within the Republican Party downplayed the severity of that event,” Diep said. “It was the final straw for me as far as whether I belong in such a party anymore.”
Diep, who voted for President Joe Biden in 2020, said he isn’t sure who he’ll back this year — but it definitely won’t be Trump, he said. For now, he hopes Sen. Tim Scott, R-South Carolina, does well in the early-voting states.
“We’ll wait and see if anyone can overcome Donald Trump’s personality within the Republican Party,” Diep said.
If a candidate other than Trump seems to have a good chance, Diep said he won’t rule out the option of re-registering as a Republican to support that person.
“Like many other independents, we have to sit back and say, ‘What are our choices, and what other factors can influence our decision?’ I’m going to look at how President Biden handled the economy, inflation, the war in Ukraine,” said Diep. “Based on all of that, I’ll make my final decision sometime in October of next year.”
Despite the clear distinction between the two groups, Avila said, the county party isn’t planning on sending out differing messages to win voters back.
“We’re not going to go to folks who are highly supportive of President Trump, and tell them we’re pro-Trump, and then walk to their neighbor who’s anti-Trump and say something else,” said Avila. “Our singular message is you get to decide the direction of the party, and to do that, you have to participate to decide who’s going to be that standard bearer, who’s going to be our nominee going forward.”
Ada Briceño, chair of the Democratic Party of Orange County, said her party does voter registration year-round — whether that’s registering someone in a household who has not yet voted or ensuring an individual’s voter registration is as it was intended.
The Orange County Republican Party will kick off the first session of the training on Saturday, June 24, and continue on until next year’s March primary, Avila said. It will be a continuous effort, he said.
“Twenty-seven thousand is a big number,” Avila said. “It may not be that first knock on the door. It may be a phone call after building the relationship and the trust of that person to get them to change registration.”
“If they like Ron DeSantis, if they like President Trump, if they like Nikki Haley, whoever it may be, their only way to vocalize that is to participate in the primary and have that say in what the direction of the party is going to be,” he said. “Having a seat at the table means you being a part of the party and showing up and having a say in which way we go.”
Source: Orange County Register