The campaign ads by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) were about what you’d expect from a politician running in Southern California, down to the shots of him carrying his surfboard along a beach. But Rohrabacher, who was first elected in 1988, lost his bid to represent California’s 48th Congressional District in the next Congress. Orange County went blue for the first time in 80 years in 2016, and that shift to the left continued with Rohrabacher’s ouster by Democrat Harley Rouda. The Associated Press called the race over the weekend, as it became clear that California’s notoriously slow vote-counting process wasn’t going to save the incumbent.
Rohrabacher wasn’t the only Southern California coastal Republican to lose. So did Diane Harkey, who was hoping to fill the seat vacated by Republican Rep. Darrell Issa’s retirement. She won’t.
What’s particularly interesting about the results is that, with those losses, only two Republicans represent any districts touching the Pacific Ocean. One is Rep. Don Young (Alaska), the longest-serving member of the House. The other is Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (Wash.), who represents the 3rd Congressional District in Washington. She won by about six points last week, less than President Trump’s margin of victory in the district two years ago.
With Issa’s retirement and Rohrabacher’s loss, a stretch of only about 38 miles on the western coast of the continental United States is represented by a Republican — Herrera Beutler’s district.
Contrast that with the East Coast, where the picture is much different. Republicans probably held on to the 2nd District in Maine but control no other part of the coast until you hit Long Island. There, Republicans held on to their seats, by margins of fewer than 10 points. New York’s 11th Congressional District, Staten Island, flipped to the Democrats, meaning that no congressional districts in the country’s largest city are represented by Republicans.
As you head farther south, though, Republicans fare better. Democrats might take the 3rd District in New Jersey (as of this writing, Democrat Andy Kim has a narrow lead over Rep. Tom MacArthur), but the 4th District remains Republican. Maryland’s and Virginia’s 1st districts also are still Republican — as are most of the coastal districts down to the tip of Florida. (Democrats picked up one: South Carolina’s 1st District, held by Republican Rep. Mark Sanford, who lost his primary.)
Why is the West Coast so blue while the East Coast is more purple? A few reasons.
First, fewer districts — and fewer states — touch the ocean on the West Coast. It’s easier to monopolize a smaller number of districts, and having only three states in the mix means districts can more easily stretch for long distances along the coast.
Second, the southeastern United States is much more conservative than the West Coast. Florida, for example, backed Trump in 2016 and is poised to elect Republicans to the Senate and as governor. Most of the state’s congressional districts touch water.
From Florida west, along the Gulf Coast, the territory is almost exclusively red. Democrats picked up two seats in southern Florida, but other than that, it’s mostly red until you get to southern Texas.
This revised map brings a new context to the pejorative term “coastal elites.” It’s generally shorthand for the northeast, Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay area. But the rest of the coasts have gotten more blue, too, from Southern California to Florida to stretches of the East Coast south of New York City.
Even Charleston, S.C., is in “Democratic coastal elite” territory now. Please remember that the next time you’re bashing the coasts as out of touch.