© 2024 WKNO FM
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Democrat Tries To Unseat GOP Incumbent In Tight Calif. House Race


Those waves behind me - I know they're not your typical soundtrack for election coverage. But here in Orange County, Calif., there's a really interesting race that could help determine whether Republicans hang on to control of the House. Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher has served the 48th Congressional District here for nearly three decades. But there is a political newcomer, Democrat Harley Rouda, who seems to have a shot at unseating him. This district - it has been moving to the left, and we got a hint of why that is the other night.

We were in Laguna Niguel. It's one of the uber-wealthy towns in the hills above the Pacific here. And this is where some very rich voters are changing the political landscape.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: So what was your name again?


GREENE: That was our editor Eric giving his name, so we could pull through the gate. We then went up to a house where there was a Porsche parked in front of this huge fountain. And our host, Duraid Antone, brought us inside.

Hey. David.

DURAID ANTONE: Morning, David. How are you?

GREENE: Nice to meet you.


GREENE: Anton is Iraqi-American. He moved from Baghdad to the U.S. when he was 6 years old. He served in intelligence in the U.S. military, and then he made a bundle running and then selling medical device companies. As for his politics...

ANTONE: I was a Republican for 31 years. When I actually turned 18 and joined the military, we were just coming off of, you know, Ronald Reagan being president and really the strong stance he had against, you know, Russia and Gorbachev and his charm and charisma. It was really cool to be a Republican at the time.

GREENE: But he doesn't see it that way anymore. Antone registered as a Democrat for the first time this year. He's been high-dollar fundraising for Democrats, including Congressman Rohrabacher's opponent. This really has been a defining year for him. He says President Trump has been undermining democratic institutions, though he says his thinking was starting to change a few years ago. Antone voted for President Barack Obama, even though Democrats usually push tax policies that cost wealthy people like him a whole lot.

ANTONE: To me, his policies, from a business perspective, hurt me, OK? Now, mind you - I say that very loosely. I live in a beautiful home. I got beautiful cars (laughter) outside. I got a wonderful wife - life, not even just wife - phenomenal wife, by the way - wonderful wife (laughter).

GREENE: Wonderful wife and life.

ANTONE: And life - exactly.

GREENE: What about Rohrabacher? Have you supported him in the past?

ANTONE: Well, yeah, I believe I voted for him every time, not because I believed in his policies. I just went down party lines. And this is the thing that...

GREENE: Up through, like, the most recent elections?

ANTONE: Yeah, even the last ones. I believe so, yeah, because it's not like I spend a lot of time looking at Dana and his policies or what he's done for my district or not. And I would say a lot of people were in that element, you know?

GREENE: So you would vote for, say, Barack Obama but then Republicans straight through in everything else.

ANTONE: Correct.


ANTONE: Correct.

GREENE: And why - just because you still consider yourself...

ANTONE: Conservative - fiscally, fiscally. It took us to this point where we finally have to go back and say, why did we get here? How did we get here?

GREENE: What would you tell a Republican voter who struggles to make enough money to pay the mortgage, send, you know, maybe a kid to college, hanging on desperately to a job, really believes that Donald Trump was the right person to fight for them? And they're like, you know what? You're sitting there on the beach in Orange County...


GREENE: ...Making a ton of money - good riddance. This is our party now.

ANTONE: No, I understand how these individuals got to Donald Trump - but clearly were impacted with a lot of the, you know, auto plants shutting down, taking their manufacturing to China or Mexico or Canada. And these people were devastated, and...

GREENE: And Trump gave them hope.

ANTONE: Great. So what is it that you identify with him? I mean, outside of this rhetoric of, you know, draining the swamp, do you sacrifice where we are as a nation as far as the level of insult, derogatory comments, integrity, character, civility - for what? - just for a $300, $400 tax break? Maybe you would, you know, and I think that's where we differ.

GREENE: The fact that you have become a Democrat this year, registered, and this - something has clicked for you.


GREENE: What does that say about our country right now, this moment?

ANTONE: Yeah, it's crazy. I mean, yeah, we're in a very unique time. And I just feel like what we have at risk is just losing our democracy and our ways as - because I go back. And I took for granted what I stand for and what I represent. And it really took me a while to understand that I am the American dream - someone that came here, humble beginnings. You know, and I look at my parents - the struggles. They've sacrificed. To leave a country like Iraq, come to a state like Detroit, Mich. - cold as hell - with barely any money in their pocket, you know, and to all sacrifice for the greater good of their kids - you go, what a sacrifice. And we've taken that sacrifice for granted.

GREENE: All right. So that was Duraid Antone. He is one of the voters we've been speaking to here in California's 48th Congressional District. It is right along the ocean in Orange County, Calif. We're going to hear a lot more voices throughout the morning. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.