Despite Pro-Trump Rally, Is Orange County Becoming Less Conservative?

Marchers take part in a Pro-Trump rally on Saturday in Huntington Beach. (Erika Aguilar/KQED)

More than 1,000 people in Huntington Beach marched this past Saturday at a rally in support of President Trump in a region that used to be considered Southern California’s conservative stronghold. But that’s been changing.

The “Make America Great Again” rally in Orange County was held to coincide with other pro-Trump events across the nation, and drew a large crowd to the beach walking path at Bolsa Chica State Park. A fight broke out early between rally goers and protesters, some of whom dressed in black and wore masks over their mouths. A crowd of marchers was pepper sprayed by the protesters, and at least one of the protesters got into a fist fight with a marcher. A reporter and a photographer from the OC Weekly say they were attacked by pro-Trump marchers. At least six people were taken into custody, said Capt. Kevin Pearsall of the California State Parks Police department. Four were arrested. But the march continued.

It’s unclear what exactly sparked the spat of violence. Kevin Pham, 47, said a woman wearing all black threw the flag he was waving and punched him in the face. The Orange County resident pointed to a swollen cut between his eyebrows.

“We just wanted to have a little family event,” he said. “All my brothers are big time Republicans so we decided to come.”

But Pham isn’t Republican, per se. He considers himself to be “purple” or an independent.

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“People here are a little bit more open minded, you know, whatever is good for the country is what they vote for,” he said.

Despite Pro-Trump Rally, Orange County Becoming Less Conservative

Despite Pro-Trump Rally, Orange County Becoming Less Conservative

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For the first time since the 1930s, Orange County favored a Democrat, Hillary Clinton by 50.9 percent of the vote in the last presidential election. Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence received 42.3 percent of vote in Orange County.

“There’s pockets like this that are pro-Trump, and that’s just the way it is,” said Ludwig Sorge of Costa Mesa, who attended the rally.

Currently, registered Republican voters in Orange County still outnumber Democrats, but only by 56,730 voters, according to data from the Orange County Registrar’s office. A group that has been growing in OC are people who register under the “No Party Preference.”

Boyd Bailey, 72, of Newport Beach said he has noticed the shift from conservatism to liberalism around the debate over legalizing the use and growing of marijuana in Southern California. That wouldn’t have happened years ago, he said.

“We have parties, and parties have factions, and factions fight with one another,” Bailey said.

Many of the marchers identified as Constitutionalists or Libertarians, and many, although steadfast in their support of the president, acknowledged he isn’t a conservative or a Republican in the sense that they believe.

“I think the word ‘conservative’ is defined by many in very different ways. Not everyone is going to agree,” said rally organizer Jennifer Sterling. “What we need to remember is we all believe in respecting each other.”

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