NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — In a tough year for Democrats, Republican Scott Baugh is trying to return this swinging Orange County neighborhood to its GOP roots after quitting his party.
But he navigates a culturally changing region, now wary of a Republican party transformed by Donald Trump and a rising Democratic star in two-term Rep. Katie Porter, who, as one Republican operative lamented, “has more money than God”.
“I wouldn’t be a candidate if I didn’t think it was winnable,” Baugh said in an interview at his campaign office in Newport Beach. “Yes, we can return it.”
Baugh, a former OC GOP chairman and state assemblyman, acknowledged his fundraising shortfall for Porter was “pretty daunting.” He told the volunteers that “it will be a low turnout election and one of the challenges is: how do we get our voters to go to the polls? »
California’s new 47th District sits at the crossroads of cross-currents shaping the 2022 election. As economic pain and President Joe Biden’s unpopularity threaten Democrats’ grip on power, cultural issues like abortion , along with Trump’s enduring hold on the party, could cap the GOP’s prospects in the suburbs.
A Porter loss would be the harbinger of a red wave. Conversely, a Republican failure here could indicate that voters who left the GOP in well-educated and suburban districts are not returning, limiting party gains. The race is a top Republican target in the battle for control of the House, and the Democrats’ campaign arm has categorized Porter as a “front-liner” in defending their majority.
“Orange County is so often a beacon of national politics. Will there be a way back for these middle-right, moderate, wealthy suburban voters, given all that the current Republican agenda has done to alienate them? said Graeme Boushey, professor of political science at nearby University of California, Irvine. “I’m skeptical there is this way back. But we can never minimize wallet issues.
Republican strategy is to make this and other Orange County races a referendum on an unpopular president and rising prices, but Porter argues her rival has no plan to fight rising prices gas and groceries, other than throwing around “epithets”.
“Listen, I live here. I raise my children here. I drive my minivan here, and I fill up these same gas tanks. I walk into those same grocery stores,” Porter told NBC News during a Huntington Beach interview. “It’s a major problem, and we have to fight it on several fronts.”
The answer to rising costs, Porter said, is to pass the recent deal between Democrats allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices, invest in American manufacturing through the recent flea law, and fight against “the rise in prices, including by the big oil companies”.
To bring prices down, Baugh said, lawmakers should increase the supply of goods, “stop spending so much money” and balance the budget.
“You need to reform entitlements” like Social Security and Medicare, which have too many “unfunded liabilities,” he continued, and said raising the retirement age should be “one of the tools you need to use” as part of a legislative compromise to reduce backstop spending.
Baugh, when asked about the main differences between him and Porter, said, “She voted on $20 trillion in spending. I wouldn’t have voted on all that spending.”
One economic issue that Porter and Baugh agree on is the expansion of the state and local tax deduction on federal returns, capped at $10,000 in the 2017 Republican tax bill, which has particularly affected blue states like California. .
A clash over ‘Orange County values’
Recently, Porter voted with her party to codify federal protections for legal abortion in the Women’s Health Protection Act and same-sex marriage in the Respect for Marriage Act. She also voted for legislation banning assault weapons.
Baugh said he would vote against all of these bills if he were a member of Congress.
“Fundamentally, I believe marriage is between a man and a woman,” he said. “I have no problem with social arrangements or social contracts and all that.”
Regarding the abortion bill, Baugh said, “I would never support that. I believe that life begins at conception. He expressed support for federal limitations after the first trimester of pregnancy, citing laws in European countries.
Baugh expressed sympathy for the red flag laws to address gun violence, but not for the other provisions Congress has considered, saying, “You’re not going to solve the problem of gun violence in this country by removing the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans.”
Porter defended his votes as reflecting the values of his districts.
“I think Orange County values things like freedom and respect for others. And that means leaving it up to everyone to make their own choice to love who they want to love, to decide for themselves when and if to start a family, including whether to have an abortion,” she said. declared. “And we appreciate the security.”
Baugh said he paid no attention to the House committee’s public hearings on Jan. 6, calling them “a bit of a fictional spectacle” that voters don’t care about. But he was asked if he thought Biden was legitimately elected president, Baugh said. : “I do.”
“He won the Electoral College and the election was certified. This makes him the President of the United States. Does that mean it was a perfect election? No,” he continued, without saying whether he thinks electoral fraud contributed to the result: “I can’t know.
On the GOP’s objections to Pennsylvania and Arizona’s electoral vote count, Baugh did not say how he would have voted on Jan. 6, 2021. “I’m not going to speculate what I would have done. If I could have asked those questions and gotten those answers, I could give you a definitive answer,” he said. “But I don’t.”
“High traffic areas”
Porter District borders three competitive Orange County area districts held by Democratic Representative Mike Levin and Republican Representatives Michelle Steel and Young Kim. Cook’s political report calls Porter and Levin’s races a “skinny Democrat.” Steel’s race is listed as “Lean Republican” and Kim’s is “Probably Republican” on the redrawn maps.
“These are heavy suburban neighborhoods, and political fortunes in OC are heavily dependent on the economy, especially gas prices. Guardrail against high taxes has been a winning formula for Republicans here,” said Dave Wasserman, Cook’s top expert on home races. “Among cultural issues, abortion has the strongest potential to save suburban Democrats, including Porter and Levin.”
The outcome of those races could hinge on undecided voters, like Newport Beach hospitality worker Andrew Lewis, who has “no idea” whether he’ll support Porter or Baugh.
He calls himself socially liberal and fiscally conservative. He feels pinched by rising prices. He supports abortion rights and stricter gun laws. But he’s no fan of Biden — or the GOP.
“I’m more in the middle,” Lewis said. “I feel like both parties – I like certain things.”
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, DN.Y., chairman of the House Democratic Campaign Committee, said the Orange County races are a ‘choice’ between ‘common-sense Democrats’ and a Trump-aligned movement “which overturned Roe v. Wade, ignores the school shootings and tries to whitewash the attack on the Capitol.
“It’s a choice Republicans are going to lose,” he said. “The Republican MAGA movement is out of step with suburban swing voters.”
And Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minn., the chairman of the GOP campaign arm, said in a statement that Republicans will continue to highlight the economic pain.
“California people are fed up with record inflation and paying the highest gas prices in the country,” Emmer said. “They know the only way to stop the madness is to vote Republican in November.”