O.C. Demo­crat thanks Trump —in a way

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - robin.ab­car­[email protected]­times.com

The big orange “Katie Porter” sign is gone from the front­yard of Hon­our Del Crog­nale’s home in Tustin.

It’s been re­placed by four big vin­tage light-up San­tas, clus­tered like a choir near the front door.

“I think one is tacky, but a bunch of them make a state­ment,” Del Crog­nale told me when I vis­ited her on Wed­nes­day.

Del Crog­nale, 54, is an el­e­men­tary school li­brar­ian and mother of two who loves to help kids get ex­cited about read­ing. She col­lects ABC books and vin­tage toys, and dis­plays them in her en­try in a tall glass china cab­i­net.

She grew up in a Repub­li­can house­hold in what she de­scribed as “Rea­gan Coun­try” — the Bal­boa Penin­sula, near the leg­endary Wedge surf spot in New­port Beach.

“Repub­li­cans were dif­fer­ent back then,” she said. “They were so­cially liberal, and not evan­gel­i­cal at all.”

We met on elec­tion day at Porter head­quar­ters in a Tustin in­dus­trial park.

The polls had run more or less con­sis­tently in Porter’s fa­vor, so her sup­port­ers were con­fi­dent that the UC Irvine con­sumer law pro­fes­sor would top­ple the two-term in­cum­bent, GOP Rep. Mimi Wal­ters, a for­mer in­vest­ment banker who was the only Orange County Repub­li­can in Congress to vote for Pres­i­dent Trump’s tax cut.

As ex­cited as all those Porter vol­un­teers were that day, there was some­thing even more revved up about Del Crog­nale. She was prac­ti­cally bounc­ing in her shoes as she gave can­vassers in­for­ma­tion about where to knock on doors in a last­minute at­tempt to get out the vote in the 45th Con­gres­sional Dis­trict, which in­cludes Irvine, Tustin and Mis­sion Viejo.

She’d been a very quiet Demo­crat who had al­ways watched with in­ter­est but hadn’t par­tic­i­pated.

Af­ter Don­ald Trump beat Hil­lary Clin­ton, and

Del Crog­nale’s col­lege-age daugh­ter called home sob­bing that night, she felt she could not sit on the side­lines any­more.

The day af­ter Trump’s in­au­gu­ra­tion, she marched for the first time in her life, at the Women’s March in Santa Ana. It was a rev­e­la­tion.

“Democrats are very quiet here be­cause you don’t want to get yelled at or have a con­fronta­tion,” she said. “It was so won­der­ful to see so many peo­ple out there from our own town, peo­ple you didn’t know felt the way you did. That was the gob­s­mack.”

It was al­most like the com­ing-out party for a se­cret so­ci­ety. Re­call­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence, she low­ered her voice to a con­spir­a­to­rial whis­per: “You are one of us.”

::

Elec­tion night was fraught for Porter and her vol­un­teers.

They gath­ered at the Irvine Hil­ton for what was to be a cel­e­bra­tion, but it soon be­came clear that Porter was trail­ing her op­po­nent.

At the end of the night, she was be­hind Wal­ters by more than 6,000 votes.

“Katie got up to speak and it sounded like a con­ces­sion, but I don’t think it re­ally was,” Del Crog­nale said. “It was our first cam­paign and we all felt like we saw so much en­thu­si­asm, so how could we lose? No one wanted a drink.”

De­flated, she and her hus­band, Greg, went to In-N-Out, where they ran into a bunch of other Tustin Democrats, in­clud­ing ac­tivist Lee Fink, who calmed them down.

“He told us there are still a lot of votes to count and it’s not over yet,” Del Crog­nale said.

When she got home, though, she yanked out her Katie Porter sign and stuck it in the garage.

A few days later, as count­ing con­tin­ued and the race started to tighten, she put the sign back out.

On Nov. 15, Porter was de­clared the vic­tor. In the end, she held 52% of the vote to Wal­ters’ 48%.

“I did scream,” Del Crog­nale said. “I’m al­ways scream­ing. To be truly can­did, I did it as much for me as I did to get Katie elected. It was such a pos­i­tive ex­pe­ri­ence, and it makes me want to keep do­ing it. There is so much to fix.”

::

It al­ways makes me a lit­tle sad when I hear peo­ple say they are afraid to re­veal their true po­lit­i­cal feel­ings. For years, though, I have heard from sub­ur­ban Democrats in Orange County that they feel iso­lated. It’s the flip side of the com­plaint that con­ser­va­tives feel muf­fled in liberal places such as San Fran­cisco, Los An­ge­les, col­lege cam­puses or that amor­phous com­mu­nity called “Hol­ly­wood.”

In Cal­i­for­nia, Repub­li­cans re­ally do have rea­son to feel lonely. As of Novem­ber, Democrats had a 20point reg­is­tra­tion ad­van­tage over Repub­li­cans, who are out­num­bered even by vot­ers who de­cline to state a party pref­er­ence.

GOP po­lit­i­cal power is shrink­ing like wet cash­mere in a hot dryer. Among Cal­i­for­nia’s 53-mem­ber con­gres­sional del­e­ga­tion, there are only seven Repub­li­cans — not even enough to field a soft­ball team, as my col­league Mark Z. Barabak pointed out.

And not a sin­gle one is from Orange County, which was so red for so long that vic­to­ri­ous Democrats seem al­most too shocked to crow.

“I still feel like I am liv­ing among Repub­li­cans,” Del Crog­nale said. “It’s still hard to talk about pol­i­tics. I’ve been friends with peo­ple who are Repub­li­can my whole life. But if you know some­one is a big Trump sup­porter and it’s some­one you re­ally like, you can’t un­know that.”

She is es­pe­cially ap­palled by the dark un­der­cur­rents of racism and in­tol­er­ance that Trump has not just un­leashed but nor­mal­ized.

“Do you re­mem­ber Strom Thur­mond? You think, no one can ever be that racist. And when he dies, that school of thought is go­ing to die with him. And then it doesn’t.”

As we sat in her cheer­ful kitchen over a plate of cho­co­late chip cook­ies, Del Crog­nale said some­thing I have heard from many Orange County Democrats lately: I didn’t think this could ever hap­pen here. In a per­verse way, she cred­its Trump.

“If Orange County can turn blue — and it does give you a weird thrill to see it — this hor­ri­ble, hor­ri­ble, hor­ri­ble pe­riod, maybe, will have a point,” she said. “If it wasn’t for Trump get­ting elected, peo­ple would not have got­ten in­volved in this way. Maybe that’s the sil­ver lin­ing.”

She has a point.

Pho­to­graphs by Allen J. Sch­aben Los An­ge­les Times

KATIE PORTER is ap­plauded by vol­un­teers at her first news con­fer­ence af­ter be­ing de­clared the win­ner over Mimi Wal­ters in the 45th Con­gres­sional Dis­trict.

HON­OUR Del Crog­nale, a school li­brar­ian from Tustin, threw her­self into Porter’s cam­paign. She was def lated on elec­tion night — and elated a week later.

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