PALMDALE, Los Angeles County -- Darren Pullan and Cathy Cooper met online, on a dating site for people over 50. For both of them, the profile picture started it all.
“First thing, let’s be honest, is appearance, is looks,” says Pullan.
“I liked what I saw when I saw his picture,” she says. “He had his shirt off and he had tattoos showing.”
For their first date, Pullan drove his Harley from his home in Lancaster, a desert town in northern Los Angeles County, to Cooper’s place in Orange County.
“We had lunch at Dave and Buster’s,” says Cooper. “And I was hooked.”
After dating for a few months, Cooper moved in with Pullan in Lancaster, and a few months after that they married. It wasn’t until they were living together that one of their key differences surfaced.
Cooper is a Democrat and Pullan is a Republican.
This election season things have gotten touchy in the Pullan-Cooper household.
“When we watch the debate, I have to promise not to yell at the TV and slander the other candidate,” says Pullan, “which is tough.”
Pullan drives a water delivery truck and describes himself as a lifelong blue-collar worker. He gets worked up about manufacturing jobs moving overseas. Cooper feels just as strongly about education and making college affordable.
“There’s two sides,” she says. “He has his own opinion. I do mine. So a lot of times we just keep 'em to ourselves.”
Antelope Valley Turns Blue?
Cooper registered as a Democrat in the Antelope Valley earlier this year. She’s part of a broader political shift that’s been taking over the local congressional district. Four years ago, there were 13,000 more Republicans here than Democrats. But now there are 7,000 more Democrats than Republicans.
That has put Republican Rep. Steve Knight’s seat in jeopardy. Political analysts have called him “the most vulnerable incumbent in California.” The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is seizing its chance to turn that seat blue, spending heavily to elect Knight’s Democratic challenger, Bryan Caforio, and further ramping up registration efforts. President Barack Obama even recently endorsed Caforio.
One of the newest Democrats to join this fold is Chris Martinez, 20. He came to a local candidate’s campaign headquarters last month to register for the first time, and proudly checked the Democratic Party box on the form.
“They give opportunities to everyone, regardless of their background,” says Martinez, “and I really like that.”
Martinez says he wasn’t really paying attention during the primaries. But when Donald Trump started saying nasty things about Mexicans and immigrants, Martinez says he wanted to vote.
“My parents are immigrants,” he says. “So to hear those kinds of words, it’s kind of hurtful, personally. You take it personally.”
He’s gotten involved in local issues, too. He’d like to see a public four-year university come to the area. And more jobs.
“It’s really hard to get jobs out here,” he says, adding the only place his friends can get hired is Wal-Mart. “It’s a struggle.”
Lots of people like Martinez’s parents have moved to the area in the last two decades, because housing is so much more affordable than “down below,” the term locals use to refer to Los Angeles. The population in Palmdale has grown from 68,000 to 160,000 in the last 25 years, and it’s become more diverse. Latinos are now 57 percent of the population, compared to 22 percent in 1990.
But the jobs have not followed the population growth. Most people commute an hour each way to Los Angeles for work. Locally, the primary industry is aerospace, but without an engineering degree, the options are limited mainly to retail or restaurants.
That’s where Cathy Cooper ended up. Before she moved here for love, she worked in a corporate office in Orange County for more than 15 years. But here, in Palmdale, the only job she could find was at Karen’s Kitchen.
“Here I am, four years later, waitressing,” she says, leaning on the diner counter after her breakfast shift. “I never thought I would be, you know, at my age.”
Cooper believes the Democrats have a better plan for improving the economy. But sometimes she feels like an outlier in this historically Republican town.
“We get a lot of people in here, hoity-toity people. They like the finer things in life,” she says. “But on the other hand, it’s like, 'Come on, it’s Palmdale, not Beverly Hills!' So I’d kind of like to see a little more of the down-to-earth people come out and come forward.”
All Politics is Personal
The fight for political control in the Antelope Valley, and the country, is echoed right inside Cathy Cooper’s home.
While she and her husband watched the third presidential debate on TV, the debate in their living room was going just as strong.
“I don’t know what she's talking about,” says Pullan, after Hillary Clinton pledged her support for the Second Amendment. “She would get rid of all guns, I do believe that."
And when Trump talked about needing to get “bad hombres” out of the country, Cooper yells at the TV: “How Donald? How?!” Later she adds that Trump’s idea of a wall along the border between the U.S. and Mexico was “the stupidest thing and totally unfeasible.”
Though Cooper and Pullan have different ideas of how the country should deal with immigration, guns, and the economy, they say their relationship is more important than all of that, and no matter who wins, they’ll adjust.
“I may not be happy,” says Pullan. “I may say things like ‘Don't blame me, I didn't vote for her.’ ”
He and Cooper laugh.
“You can’t let something like this come between you,” Cooper says. “No, no, no, no.”