NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — In a tough year for Democrats, Republican Scott Baugh is trying to bring this Orange County swing district back to its GOP roots after it left his party.
But he’s navigating 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 lamented, “has more money than God.”
“I wouldn’t be in if I didn’t think it was winning,” Baugh said in an interview at his Newport Beach campaign office. “Yes, we can return it.”
Baugh, a former OC GOP chairman and state councilor, admitted his fundraising shortfall to Porter is “pretty daunting.” He told volunteers it will be “low turnout elections and one of the challenges is how do we get our voters to the polls?”
California’s new 47th district is at the crossroads of cross-currents shaping the 2022 election. While economic pain and President Joe Biden’s unpopularity threaten Democrats’ power, cultural issues such as abortion, as well as Trump’s lasting hold on the party, can put a ceiling on GOP prospects in the suburbs.
Porter’s defeat would be a harbinger of a red wave. Conversely, a Republican failure here could indicate that voters who have left the GOP in educated and suburban districts are not coming back, limiting the party’s profits. The race is a top target for Republicans in the fight for control of the House, and the Democrats’ campaign arm has named Porter as a “frontliner” in defending their majority.
“Orange County is so often a whistleblower to national politics. Will there be a way back for these suburban right-wing, moderate, wealthy voters, given how much the current Republican agenda has done to alienate them?” said Graeme Boushey, a professor of political science at the nearby University of California, Irvine. “I doubt there’s that way back. But we can never weaken the wallet.”
The Republican strategy is to turn this and other Orange County races into a referendum on an unpopular president and rising prices, but Porter claims her rival has no plan to combat rising gas and grocery prices other than swinging “swear words.” ‘.
‘Look, I live here. I raise my children here. I’m driving my minivan around here, and I’m filling those same gas tanks. I walk into those same supermarkets,” Porter told NBC News during an interview in Huntington Beach. “It’s a big problem and we have to fight it on several fronts.”
The answer to rising costs, Porter said, is to succeed the recent deal between the Democrats Enabling Medicare to negotiate drug pricesinvest in U.S. manufacturing through the recent chips law and fight against “price inflating, including by major oil companies.”
To lower prices, Baugh said, lawmakers must increase the supply of goods, “stop spending so much money” and balance the budget.
“You need to reform rights” like Social Security and Medicare, which have too many “unfunded liabilities,” he continued, saying that raising the retirement age “should be one of the tools you should use” as part of a legislative compromise to cut back on safety net spending.
Baugh, who was asked about the key differences between him and Porter, said: “She voted on $20 trillion in spending. I wouldn’t have voted on all that expenditure.”
One economic problem Porter and Baugh agree on is the extension of state and local tax deductions on federal returns, capped at $10,000 in the 2017 Republican tax law, which has hit blue states like California especially hard.
A Clash Over ‘Orange County Values’
Recently, Porter voted with her party to codify federal protections for legal abortion in the United States Women’s Health Protection Act and same-sex marriage in the Respect for the Marriage Law. They also voted for legislation that would ban assault weapons.
Baugh said he would vote against all those bills if he was a congressman.
“Basically, I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman,” he said. “I have no problem with social arrangements or social contracts and stuff.”
About the abortion law, Baugh said, “I would never support that. I believe life begins at conception.” He expressed support for federal restrictions after the first trimester of pregnancy, citing laws in European countries.
Baugh expressed sympathy for red flag laws to address gun violence, but not the other provisions Congress has considered, saying, “You’re not going to solve the issue of gun violence in this country by taking away the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans. to take.”
Porter defended her votes as a reflection of the values of her districts.
“I think Orange County values things like freedom and respect for others. And that means it’s left to individual people to make their own choice as to how to love who they want to love, to make their own decision about when and whether to start a family, including whether or not to undergo a abortion,” she said. “And we attach great importance to safety.”
Baugh said he did not pay attention to the January 6 House committee’s public hearings, dismissing them as “a bit of a sham” that voters don’t care about. But asked if he believes Biden was legitimately elected president, Baugh said, “I do.”
“He won the electoral college and the election was certified. That makes him the president of the United States. Does that mean it was a perfect election? No,” he continued, not saying whether he believes voter fraud contributed to the outcome: “I don’t know.”
On the GOP’s objections to counting electoral votes from Pennsylvania and Arizona, Baugh would not say how he would have voted on January 6, 2021. “I’m not going to speculate about what I would have done. If I could have asked those questions and got those answers, I could have given you a definitive answer,” he said. “But not me.”
‘Heavy commuter areas’
The Porter district borders three competitive Orange County-area districts, which are owned by Democratic Representative Mike Levin and Republican Representatives Michelle Steel and Young Kim. The Cook Political Report rates Porter and Levin’s races as “lean Democrat.” Steel’s race is rated “lean Republican” and Kim’s is “probably Republican” in redrawn maps.
“These are heavy commuter districts, and political fortunes in OC depend heavily on the economy, particularly gas prices. Fighting high taxes has been a winning formula for Republicans here,” said Dave Wasserman, Cook’s top House racing expert. “Of the cultural issues, abortion has the greatest potential to save suburban Democrats, including Porter and Levin.”
The outcome of these races could come down to undecided voters, such as Andrew Lewis, a Newport Beach hospitality worker, who has “no idea” whether he will support Porter or Baugh.
He calls himself socially liberal and fiscally conservative. He feels pinched by rising prices. He is in favor of abortion rights and stricter gun laws. But he is not a fan of Biden – or the GOP.
“I’m more in the middle,” Lewis said. “I feel like both parties – I like some things.”
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, DN.Y., the chairman of the House Democratic campaign committee, said Orange County races are a “choice” between “common sense Democrats” and a Trump-aligned move “that Roe v. Wade overthrown, ignores school shootings and tries to condone the attack on the Capitol.”
“That’s a choice Republicans are going to lose,” he said. “The MAGA Republican movement is out of step with suburban voters.”
and Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minn., the chairman of the GOP campaign division, said in a statement Republicans will continue to highlight economic pain.
“Californians are tired of record inflation and are 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.”