At President Nixon's home, there's a longing for the good old days of conservatism and an ambivalence about this year's contenders.

Richard Nixon, 37th president of the United States, was born in 1913 at this house in Yorba Linda, Calif.
Richard Nixon, 37th president of the United States, was born in 1913 at this house in Yorba Linda, Calif. (By David Mcnew -- Getty Images)
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 4, 2008; Page A09

YORBA LINDA, Calif. -- Vicki Miller crossed her arms.

"John McCain ticks me off," she said. "I'm very angry at him. If I vote for him, I'll do it with a bad taste in my mouth. That lowlife is going to make all these illegals legal.

"And I like [Vice President] Cheney," she said. "Everybody hates Cheney, but I like him."

Gene Miller turned to his wife. "Even though he's got bad aim, eh?"

The Millers, both 61 and retired from computer careers at McDonnell Douglas and then Boeing, shared a bench in the chill overcast outside the house where Richard M. Nixon was born. Behind them, fellow visitors to the Nixon Library and Museum climbed the steps of the Marine helicopter the former president used to leave the White House after announcing his resignation. On the top step, they dutifully threw their arms over their heads, fingers splayed in "V" signs

"I was one of the last people that thought he was innocent," Vicki Miller said. "The morning of the announcement was the day I turned. Not that I turned. But I don't care. He opened the door to China."

The Millers have lived in Orange County for 30 years.

"I'm less passionate," Gene Miller said. "I couldn't be more passionate" than her, he said, giving his wife an appreciative glance.

"We're pretty disappointed with Arnold," he said, referring to Arnold Schwarzenegger, California's Republican governor, who has worked closely with the Democratic legislature. "And the Republicans with George Bush, they just spend, spend, spend. They seem to have lost their way."

Orange County never has. The birthplace of the first native Californian elected to the White House (Nixon), the suburban paradise between Los Angeles and San Diego remains a conservative bastion in a state that has trended more and more Democratic. Before there were red states and blue states, there was Orange.

"When you passed from Long Beach to Seal Beach, you'd gone behind the Orange Curtain," Gene Miller said.

Yet these are challenging times. The party's latest questionable move was closing its side of Tuesday's primary to the 20 percent of voters who consider themselves independent. Schwarzenegger warned the state GOP that it is growing insular, obsessed with ideological purity.

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