The 73rd Assembly District:
The 73rd Assembly District is located in Southern Orange County and is considered one of the most consistently Republican areas of the state. This was the home of former President Richard Nixon and still is home to one of the must stops for any major state or national candidate Republican to swing by on donor drives. It’s also home to one of the few growing Republican bases left in California. They outnumber Democrats 2 to 1, and it’s starting to bleed over into neighboring districts.
These are the outer ring suburbs for Los Angeles, and it shows. Kashkari and Cox won big here during the past two governors races, and Romney and Trump won out by large margins in the past two presidential races. For Democrats to win here for state Senator, they would need a split ticket as well as a little luck too.
History of the 73rd:
As one of the mainstay Republican districts, the 73rd has a reputation where Republican hopefuls like to test the waters during some off terms.
In 2012 former Assemblywoman Diane Harkey trounced her Democratic opponent James Corbett 64% to 36%, but when that term turned out to be her last, Republicans came out of the woodwork in 2014. So many Republicans entered the fray for the primary that the Democratic candidate actually came in first with 28% of the vote. Assemblyman Bill Brough (R-Dana Point) then proceeded to win the 2014 general and 2016 by huge margins. However, by 2018, Assemblyman Brough had fallen a bit due to scandal, a large number of gay supporters turning out to vote for his opponent, and a general Trump-supporter backlash, and only managed to squeak to victory 56% to 44% against realtor Scott Rhinehart.
Bill Brough, the incumbent, is not coming into the race on solid footing. The former Department of Veterans Affairs liaison and Dana Point Councilman first became an Assemblyman in 2014 and initially enjoyed high levels of support.
However a weak showing in 2018 is only the least of his concerns going in. He has been facing sexual harassment claims from two women for nearly a year, and has been facing charges of illegally using almost $200,000 of campaign finance money for nearly as long. A more right leaning California Republican with a strong record of voting pro-gun, pro-police, and pro-business among other issues, his voting record may not save him this year. His Courage Score showing him as one of the politicians most deep in the pockets of lobbyists isn’t exactly helping his case either or winning him new supporters either.
How bad has it gotten? Many Republican leaders have asked him to resign, with the Orange County GOP itself asking him not to run again in 2020. For many Republicans here, which is the vast majority of voters, this is troubling.
While Brough may be the incumbent, Laurie Davies is currently the front runner. A long time businesswoman in Laguna Niguel, Davies was elected to the Laguna Niguel City Council in 2012 and subsequently became mayor in 2015, winning re-election the next year.
Standing on platforms such as removing government waste and solving the homeless crisis, Davies has won the support of many GOP groups in the County, including the Orange County GOP. Her mix of traditional yet progressive beliefs have impressed them, and along with other candidates, they have been burying Brough in most areas outside of Dana Point.
Name recognition as mayor and through her wedding planning business have also helped immensely, essentially beating out any advertising Brough has mustered at this point.
Mission Viejo City Councilman Ed Sachs has also had a strong showing. Another longtime businessman turned City Councilmember, Sachs is closely trailing behind Davies.
Sachs is pushing for many of the same issues as Davies, with an extra focus on lowering property taxes. And while Davies has the county GOP support, Sachs has the support of many major lawmakers across the county, including most current mayors as well as firefighter unions. His greater political support comes as a challenge to both Davies party support and Brough’s pockets of incumbent supporters
For Republicans in the district, it may come down to factors such as single issues and geographic location.
In most years a Democratic challenger may not have any chance in the district. But 2020 is proving to not be most years.
Rhinehart is a real estate broker and a longtime political activist for gay rights. While he has the backing of the California Democratic Party as well as many Democrat members of Congress, it may turn out to be moot when he comes up against a sole Republican challenger.
Despite that, he’s still very much a contender for the district. A shockingly strong showing in 2018 gained him name recognition, and his work for gay rights in helping defeat The Briggs Initiative and opposing Proposition 8 have won him the support of many younger voters, even a few Millennial and Generation Z Republicans among them.
While he’s still considered a longshot, a surprise Brough win or a carry-over of his scandals to the next candidate may make him a surprise contender yet again.
Lawyer Chris Duncan is also trying to get the Democrat’s top spot, but he has been polling low in the District.
What does this mean?:
The 73rd District hasn’t wavered in it’s party of choice in decades, and all indications show that it won’t be happening any time soon.
Brough is most likely done. If he manages to win he would face the real possibility of losing against either Davies or Sachs, which would be a huge personal embarrassment, or the much smaller but still real possibility losing against a Democrat, which would be a huge embarrassment for the GOP.
Should Brough win, the Republicans will begrudgingly go with him. But should Davies or Sachs win, victory is in the bag. The party would enthusiastically support either of them, with voters most likely following considering their records, experience, and supporters.
For the Democrats, Rhinehart is their best hope, and even then it would take a large combination of things to happen for him to even be close. But then again, in happened in 2018.
But at the end of the day this is a very Republican district, and the Republican is going to win. All we need to know now is which one is it. Or if two Republicans manage to get the top spots in the primary, which one the party is going to back.