With Biden faltering, can Trump finally win Orange County? (2024)

Good morning. It’s Monday, July 8. Here’s what you need to know to start your day.

  • Orange County has rejected Trump twice, but what does 2024 have in store?
  • A growing complex of landslides is creating a new beach in Rancho Palos Verdes.
  • Ultramarathon runners embrace pain and test their sanity in Western States 100.
  • And here’s today’s e-newspaper

Can Trump finally win Orange County?

Ever since President Biden’s disastrous June 27 debate performance, my regular electric-bike excursions along the Huntington Beach path have changed.

I’m not talking about the views of the Pacific, the birds dancing in the Bolsa Chica wetlands or the smell of early-evening beach bonfires. They’re all just as soothing as ever.

But these days, politics is always lurking in the background.

A few weeks back, I loaded my electric bike onto the car rack and drove across the San Gabriel River, passing through the “Orange Curtain.” On Seal Beach Boulevard, a sea of Trump flags and banners swayed in the wind in front of a Vons. This was “Trump Mart,” and a woman seated at a table was selling Trump-themed merch.

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I got to the beach and parked next to a house that had a 10-foot-fall Trump banner hanging from the second floor. I’ve been back a few times since the debate, and the scene is largely unchanged.

Huntington Beach is having a lengthy MAGA moment, complete with battles involving pride flags, book banning, voter ID rules and COVID-related restrictions. Its leaders have made headlines in right-wing circles; first came Tito Ortiz, the former MMA fighter turned Trump-on-the-Pacific, and now there’s the current mayor, Gracey Van Der Mark, whom Times columnist Gustavo Arellano described as “Huntington Beach’s Latina MAGA mayor.”

But Orange County is a big place, with 3.1 million residents, and it’s no longer the hom*ogeneous land of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and John Wayne. (Roughly 38% of the population is white, while 34% is Latino and 23% is Asian, according to census data.)

Remember, Orange County has rejected Trump twice, favoring Hillary Clinton in 2016 and Biden in 2020.

But what does 2024 have in store?

I have not seen any recent polling. But how Trump does in Orange County will say a lot — not only about his hold on the Republican Party but also about the sentiments of voting blocs that have helped Democrats here in recent years.

In 2020, Trump carried a swath of the county from the Newport and Huntington coasts north into heavily Asian Westminster and Garden Grove. He also scored in northern suburbs (Villa Park, Yorba Linda, Anaheim Hills) and South County (San Clemente, Mission Viejo and Cota de Caza).

Biden took much of the rest, including major population centers such as Anaheim, Irvine, Santa Ana, Orange, Fullerton and Costa Mesa.

With Biden faltering, can Trump finally win Orange County? (1)

Flags are set up July 2 near the Huntington Beach Pier.

(Shelby Grad / Los Angeles Times)

There is no question Biden’s popularity has dropped since the debate, and you have to assume that is playing out in the purple parts of Orange County. Do disaffected voters go to Trump?

Here are a few things to consider:

  • My colleague Hannah Fry earlier this year delved into the origins of Orange County’s purple tendencies and found this: UC Irvine researchers in a poll described them as “modestly partisan Republicans.” This group “differs from the traditional GOP voter in a few key areas: They’re wealthier, they’re diverse, they’re more socially liberal, and they’re less resistant to being taxed to help solve issues related to climate change and homelessness.” These Republicans are different from the die-hard Trump backers and clearly helped give Clinton and Biden the edge. It will be particularly interesting to see how this practical voter bloc has processed Biden’s age and concerns over his long-term fitness for office.
  • UCI data found Trump made inroads in 2020 in Little Saigon, the heart of Orange County’s Vietnamese community. And Republicans are targeting Asians hard in 2024.
  • The Orange County Register predicted Asian voters would be crucial to the 2024 outcome. “Like the rest of this purple county, it straddles the conservative-liberal divide,” Long Bui, an international studies professor at UC Irvine, told the Register in May.
  • A big wild card: Will the election draw more voters who are younger, liberal minded and less affluent? Latinos could be crucial if they stick with the Democratic nominee, whoever that is. How are they processing the debate? Does it make them more or less likely to come out to vote?

I got my electric bike a few months into the pandemic — an attempt to take a break from lockdown and have some exercise that did not involve walking from the home office to the refrigerator and back 20 times. I discovered the Huntington Beach path that fall, just as the 2020 campaign was reaching its climax.

On the morning of election day, I hit the path ahead of what I knew was going to be a long night in the newsroom. Like everyone, I was tense about what was about to happen — or not happen, depending on whether the presidential race was too close to call. The battery-assisted pedaling and the ocean breezes worked their magic, and I relaxed. Later, I caught sight of a guy near the pier waving a huge Trump flag and circling around on a beach cruiser. A woman cycling ahead of me breezed by and rang her bike bell in support. Was this a sign that the country was up for another upset victory? Were the polls off again?

In the end, Trump carried Huntington Beach but lost Orange County. It wasn’t even close:

  • Biden: 814,009
  • Trump: 676,4498

But a lot has happened in those four years. A lot has happened in the last two weeks. A lot has happened in the last few days.

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Today’s top stories

With Biden faltering, can Trump finally win Orange County? (2)

Denny Jaconi points out rocky shoreline that the Rancho Palos Verdes resident says “is brand new.”

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Climate and environment

  • A growing complex of landslides is creating a new beach in Rancho Palos Verdes.
  • In a troubling milestone, Earth surpassed 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming for 12 consecutive months.
  • The persistent heat wave in the U.S. was expected to shatter records as it baked the West and held the East in a sweltering grip.

Crime, policing and public safety

  • “Bringing a gun to a knife fight”: LAPD officers continue to shoot those having a mental health crisis and holding an “edged weapon,” an analysis shows.
  • An LAX passenger was arrested after running onto the tarmac during what police said was a mental health crisis.
  • Dozens of juveniles were detained after a disturbance at a Carson shopping center.
  • Two adults and 3 children out cycling were struck by a hit-and-run driver in Garden Grove.

L.A. Influential: The Establishment
The latest installment of The Times’ series profiles the bosses, elected officials and A-listers calling the shots from the seats of power. Here’s a selection:

  • Kamala Harris: The vice president is on the front lines of a political crisis.
  • The L.A. County supervisors have been dubbed the Five Little Queens.
  • Bob Iger is the embattled keeper of the House of Mouse.
  • Archbishop José Gomez, the soft-spoken, hard-line prelate.
  • Explore more of The Times’ expansive series profiling some of the people shaping Los Angeles and beyond.

More big stories

  • L.A. Olympics organizers are about to face their toughest task: delivering on promises.
  • “Playing COVID roulette”: Some infected by FLiRT variants are reporting their most unpleasant symptoms yet.
  • Will the Grants Pass ruling on homelessness spur smaller cities to shoo people into L.A.?
  • A wildlife crossing is proposed for Highway 17 in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
  • Analysis: ‘Dodged a bullet.’ In France, voters deny far right a win. But what now?

Get unlimited access to the Los Angeles Times. Subscribe here.

  • Times Editorial Board: Special interests are trying to gut a law that curbs corruption in local government.
  • Times Editorial Board: Cities in L.A. County shouldn’t race to criminalize homelessness after the Grants Pass ruling.
  • Guest opinion: Today it seems like Americans all hate one another. But our country was founded on friendship.
  • Guest opinion: Americans are getting our “pursuit of happiness” all wrong. There’s a simple fix.

Today’s great reads

With Biden faltering, can Trump finally win Orange County? (3)

Runner Daniel Jones crosses the Middle Fork of the American River during the Western States Endurance Run on June 29 in Auburn, Calif.

(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

‘It will change your life.’ Ultramarathon runners embrace pain of Western States 100. “It’s a test of willpower, fortitude and pain tolerance more than a measure of stamina, speed or athletic talent,” writes The Times’ Kevin Baxter. “Yet so many people want to attempt the world’s oldest 100-mile race, which turned 50 last weekend, that organizers use a lottery each year to wean the nearly 10,000 applicants down to a field of 375.”

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Other great reads

  • A family found their dream home in Sun Valley. Then the hoarder next door turned it into a pricey prison.
  • Students scoffed at a school cellphone ban. Until they really began to think about it.

How can we make this newsletter more useful? Send comments to essentialcalifornia@latimes.com.

For your downtime

With Biden faltering, can Trump finally win Orange County? (4)

Among works at MOCA: Josh Kline, “Adaptation,” 2019, 16mm film.

(Museum of Contemporary Art)

Going out

  • 🍔 Here’s what and where to eat in L.A. this summer, according to Times restaurant critic Bill Addison.
  • 🐋 10 places in California to see magnificent wildlife in natural settings.
  • 🧊 A new exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art comments on climate change. Here’s Times art critic Christopher Knight’s review.

Staying in

  • 🧑‍🍳 Here’s a recipe for tahini-herb pasta salad.
  • ✏️ Get our free daily crossword puzzle, sudoku, word search and arcade games.

And finally ... a great photo

Show us your favorite place in California! We’re running low on submissions. Send us photos that scream California and we may feature them in an edition of Essential California.

With Biden faltering, can Trump finally win Orange County? (5)

A July 1 photo from Summit Lake shows snow-capped Lassen Peak in the distance.

(Alicia Springer)

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Today’s great photo is from Alicia Springer of Chico: Lassen Volcanic National Park.

Alicia writes: “[It’s] the Sacramento Valley’s summer escape from heat and smog and winter snow destination. The park typically gets so much snow that roads and trails are closed through June. This week, we were kayaking and swimming in a chill mountain lake while temperatures in the Valley topped 110. A lot of the eastern side of the park was nuked by the Dixie Fire in 2022 but amazing wildflowers are the regeneration prize.”

Have a great day, from the Essential California team

Ryan Fonseca, reporter
Amy Hubbard, deputy editor, Fast Break

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With Biden faltering, can Trump finally win Orange County? (2024)
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