The Associated Press declared Democrat Gil Cisneros the winner of California’s 39th Congressional District late Saturday night, concluding the last undecided race in the state and bolstering already significant gains for Democrats. Cisneros’ victory in a district that includes Orange County, a longtime ideological bastion of conservatism, completed an astounding clean sweep of the county for Democrats, marking broad changes in the region’s political demographics. Democrats will now control all seven of the congressional districts that include portions of Orange County. They also will now hold an overall 45-8 advantage in House seats representing the state, amounting to 87 percent of California’s congressional delegation.
“It’s the Republican wipeout in Orange County, a wellspring of conservatism that nourished generations of state and national party leaders, that stands as a shock,” the Los Angeles Times noted. “Many never thought they would see a day when its expansive suburban tracts were anything but flaming Republican red.” The wipeout came at a snail’s pace, however, as Republican candidate Young Kim, a former staffer of retiring GOP Rep. Ed Royce, was the early leader in the vote tally on Election Day; the lead eroded day-by-day as provisional and mail-in ballots continued to be counted until Cisneros, who was a Republican himself until 2008, pulled ahead on Thursday, a full 10 days after the state went to the polls.
There were signs that Orange County was trending away from its historical conservative roots before Cisneros, a 47-year-old veteran who is also a $266 million lottery jackpot winner, pulled ahead. Hillary Clinton predictably won California in 2016, by nearly 4 million votes, but she also won Orange County, a harbinger of the dramatic flip to come in 2018. Part of that shift lies in the fact that the 39th district is increasingly diverse. It is roughly equally divided by party between Republicans, Democrats, and independents, as well as by ethnicity, split evenly between Asians, Hispanics, and whites.