Will GOP focus on crime sway suburban voters in Orange County?

Best known as the birthplace of former President Nixon, Yorba Linda is home to lush golf courses, equestrian trails, and ranch-style homes with backyard stables. It has more places of worship per capita than anywhere else in Orange County.

Residents are moving to the conservative suburb in search of safe neighborhoods, clean parks and open spaces. The city, whose motto is “Land of Gracious Living,” is largely removed from many of the crime problems that make headlines in California’s more populated cities.

Yorba Linda, population 68,000, had eight robberies last year, up from three the year before, and 71 home burglaries, up from 59 in 2020. Crime data shows there has been no homicide in eight years. But even in one of the safest cities in the state, voters are grappling with crime concerns in an election that will determine the balance of power in Congress.

A dog waits for its owner in front of a hair salon

A dog waits for its owner outside a hair salon on historic Main Street in Yorba Linda.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Though many in Yorba Linda say crime isn’t their main issue, their desire to prevent it in their city ranks with other critical issues like inflation, gas prices, and abortion, which will help them decide which congressional candidate gets their vote.

“People who live in safe areas really don’t want crime. They’re the super paranoid ones who ask, “Who’s walking down my street” or “Who’s in my neighborhood,” said Jimmy Camp, an independent political adviser. “Crime is a strategy and is it perhaps a bit overdone? Yes, but I think it’s effective.”

Nationally, Republicans, who have largely focused on inflation for months, have seized on crime as a key issue in the final few weeks leading up to Tuesday’s election in a bid to sway independent voters, highlight their conservative bases and divert focus from abortion . The GOP has been on the defensive since the Supreme Court overturned the Roe v. Wade case in June, and many states have since enacted a string of sweeping abortion bans.

Even as Orange County becomes more politically diverse — deviating from its reputation as a GOP stronghold — the 40th congressional district where GOP Rep. Young Kim opposed Democrat Dr. Asif Mahmood arrives, home to some of the USA’s most conservative cities. Republicans have a 4.5 point voter registration advantage there.

But that lead will only give Republicans victory if consistently conservative-leaning voters cast their ballots, which likely led to an increased focus on crime, Camp said.

“Someone is taking polls and saying the intensity of the grassroots isn’t as strong as we need it to be,” said Camp, who has worked on some of Kim’s previous campaigns. “They look at a poll and say we need to make sure we get out there and stir up our base.”

When two masked intruders broke into Tamara Schlachter’s Yorba Linda home last month, breaking in through a sliding glass door, television news networks across Southern California aired surveillance footage of the crime on their evening shows.

Butcher was out to dinner when she received a notification on her phone from her home security system that an “unknown face” was upstairs. She watched the burglary on her cell phone.

The video shows two thieves roaming the home for about 14 minutes, searching the family’s belongings. The men made off with cash and jewelry, Schlachter said.

News outlets also shared photos of the home’s broken door and belongings scattered in the master bedroom. The situation is frightening but motivating, said Schlachter.

“You don’t notice it, but you can’t just feel safe,” said Schlachter, 51. “What happened really makes you want to go out and vote.”

Susan Wan-Ross, 59, said she was exasperated when she saw video of the burglary on the news.

“They were just so casual about it,” she said of the intruders. “If it was my house, it would be hard for me to know someone was in there going through all my stuff.”

The Arch over Main Street in Yorba Linda

Historic main street in Yorba Linda.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Yorba Linda Chamber of Commerce CEO Wan-Ross said crime is one of several issues she will consider when voting. Despite this, she feels overall safe because of the police presence in the city, she said.

“I know they’re keeping track, and it makes me feel better knowing they’re going to do whatever they can to apprehend the perpetrators,” she said.

The Republican argument that the Democrats are criminals has served the GOP well in the past. Years of polls show voters think Republicans are tougher on justice issues.

“I saw someone on Twitter joking that you can tell it’s two weeks before the election because Republicans are talking about crime,” Camp said.

In October, Republicans spent nearly $96 million on more than 450 television and digital commercials talking about crimes to attack Democrats, many using footage from news reports and 911 calls. At the same time, Democrats have spent just over $77 million on ads related to the issue, according to AdImpact, a political advertising tracking company.

The GOP ads evoke fears reminiscent of past election tactics. In 1988, an ad supporting Republican George HW Bush’s presidential campaign accused his Democratic rival of having “granted first-degree murderers weekend passes from prison.”

While political scientists have debated the impact of the so-called “Willie Horton” ads on the election, many argue that it helped usher in an era of tough anti-crime policies.

Fears of crime are particularly prevalent in Orange County, experts say.

During this year’s district attorney race, incumbent Todd Spitzer branded himself a law and order candidate and focused his message on punishing criminals to prevent Orange County from becoming like Los Angeles. He crushed his progressive challenger in the primary and avoided a runoff in November.

“Crime can be very successful as a wedge issue for Republican candidates trying to break up the larger Democratic or indecisive coalition,” said Graeme Boushey, an associate professor at UC Irvine who teaches public policy and California politics.

According to a Politico/Morning Consult poll released in early October, more than three-quarters of voters polled across the country said violent crime is on the rise and is a major problem in the United States.

About 60% of respondents said crime would play a key role when deciding which congressional candidate to vote for, ahead of issues like jobs, immigration, COVID and voting rights.

Property crime in Orange County declined in 2021, according to a study by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California released in October. Although violent crime increased by more than 10%, the study showed that Orange County was among the four the lowest violent crime rate in the country.

But crimes, especially those caught on video, stick in people’s minds.

In early September, Thomas Huynh’s Yorba Linda restaurant, Monarch 9, was broken into for the fifth time in six years.

On Facebook, he shared surveillance footage of a man hitting the store with a rock. Customers were outraged. Several called for “tougher” property crime laws. “Sad times we are living through,” wrote another.

Huynh, a 46-year-old Republican, said he will vote for Kim primarily because of her “tough stance on crime.”

“I think she understands that this is a big deal for small business owners and it hits us hard,” he said.

Kim has appeared on FOX News for the past few weeks to speak about retail crime and legislation she has proposed to improve coordination between law enforcement agencies. In an interview last month, she told FOX that “it seems like every week we see news of a different company being burgled.”

She frequently raises the issue on her social media, blaming rising crime rates on judicial reforms like zero-bail initiatives and Prop. 47, an 8-year-old law that reclassified some theft and drug possession violations from felonies to misdemeanor.

Kim’s campaign did not make her available for an interview.

Mahmood said crime is a concern, but it’s less of an issue in Orange County than in many places nearby.

A homeless man sits on a bench under a blanket

A homeless man sits under a blanket on a bench near Main Street in Yorba Linda.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

“In general, crime has increased everywhere,” he said in an interview with The Times. “Part of that could be the economic situation and part of that could be the COVID crisis. I think gun safety is more of an important issue in our district than crime.”

Some voters say laws regulating the sale of guns and ammunition don’t go far enough and suspect it could contribute to more crime, he said.

In the Politico/Morning Consult poll, 60% of voters said gun policy would play an important role in their election to Congress, and more than half attributed the increase in crime to gun proliferation.

Yorba Linda councilor Tara Campbell said part of the city’s appeal is that many residents feel safe in their homes.

“We’re one of the safest cities in the state, but we’re not immune to all crimes,” said Campbell, a 29-year-old Republican. “Public safety is always our top priority. So I think that will be a factor in this election, along with inflation and gas prices.”

Rosemary Moulin was dismayed after seeing video of the butcher’s home being broken into on the news, she said while sitting outside a cafe in Yorba Linda.

“I thought, what’s happening to our town,” said Moulin, 63, shaking his head.

“Yorba Linda is a sleepy town,” she added. “We never had to worry about something like this happening here, but now we do.”

Terry Castleman, a Times contributor, contributed to this report.

https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2022-11-06/in-one-of-orange-countys-safest-cities-voters-still-think-about-crime-so-do-republican-campaigns Will GOP focus on crime sway suburban voters in Orange County?

Alley Einstein

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