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GOP Registration Blitz Pushes Lead to a 15-Year High

December 28, 1985|LANIE JONES | Times Political Writer

Registered Republicans outnumber Democrats in traditionally conservative Orange County by the widest margin in 15 years, county Registrar of Voters Alvin E. Olson reported Friday.

Republicans credited their success to continued support in the county for President Reagan--and to a relentless voter registration drive in the county.

Tactics in the year-round drive have included paying "bounties" for each new Republican registered; setting up registration booths at shopping malls, the Orange County Fair and the Costa Mesa Fish Fry, and mailing letters to undecided or Democratic voters inviting them to join the "Grand Old Party."

1970 Previous High

Of 1,067,020 county voters registered by Dec. 22, when end-of-year figures were compiled, 562,190, or 52.7%, were registered Republicans, compared to 390,513, or 36.6%, registered Democrats.

The last time the percentage of Republicans was this great was in 1970, when 53.7% of county voters were Republicans, compared to 41.1% Democrats.

Except for brief interludes, Republicans have held a registration lead for decades. County Republican chairman Thomas A. Fuentes said the party has been working hard to widen that gap to strengthen GOP prospects in statewide races.

"We are the anchor to the right," Fuentes said. "We are the bastion of the Republican votes that counterbalances what is done in West Los Angeles and San Francisco by the Democrats.

County's Importance

"Orange County is depended on by the California Republican Party to deliver this state if we ever have hopes of a statewide Republican candidate being elected," he said, noting that Orange County provided the margin of victory for both Sen. Pete Wilson and Gov. George Deukmejian in close elections in 1982. The county also gave President Reagan a 450,000-vote cushion in the 1984 presidential election, when he comfortably carried the state.

Republicans are bringing in at least 500 new registrations a week, said Ruth Renert, a clerk at the county registrar of voters. And from Oct. 10 to Dec. 22, when the latest figures were compiled, Republican registrations increased by 10,293. In the same period, Democratic registrations rose by only 155, according to figures from the registrar's office.

County Democratic Party leaders said they had expected Republicans to lead in registration because they usually do. Besides, county Democrats have had no voter registration drive this year.

In the last month, however, county Democrats have been planning a major registration effort. Those officials declined to describe their strategy other than to say the campaign should be visible in early 1986 and should narrow the registration gap.

Democratic Strategy

In the coming election-year drive, "obviously we won't be able to catch them (the Republicans)," said Howard Adler, a Democratic Central Committee member. "But we are planning to make key districts . . . more competitive--and more Democratic."

Hazel Stover, vice chairman of the Democratic Central Committee of Orange County, said the Democrats would be doing "everything we can to increase voter registration. But we have no illusion that this county is going to a be a Democratic stronghold."

The last time Orange County Democrats held a majority among registered voters was 1979, when Jimmy Carter was President and county Democratic leaders mounted a major registration drive. But Republicans recovered the lead the very next year.

1 Democratic District

Meanwhile, Republicans said they had been working to make all districts, especially the 72nd Assembly District in the central part of the county, more Republican. The district is the only one in the county in which Democrats have a registration lead, and it is the only one represented by a Democrat, Richard Robinson.

The Republican strategy has included:

- A bounty program in which local political clubs earn money for each new Republican registered.

- Promotional booths at malls and festivals throughout the county all year long.

- Sign-up efforts among new citizens. In November, for example, party members organized car pools to attend the mass citizenship ceremonies in Los Angeles to register voters.

- A variety of special promotions. Last summer, for example, about 100 Young Republicans spent several weekends at the beach, registering voters from Huntington Beach to San Clemente. For their effort, they received T-shirts, a continental breakfast and, at day's end, a beach picnic attended by Republican state senators, assemblymen and congressmen.

- Direct-mail campaigns to several thousand undecided or Democratic voters. In targeted precincts in which voters appear to have voted "conservative" in recent elections, Republican volunteers call registered voters and ask them to switch their registration to Republican, Fuentes said. The telephone effort has been followed up by letters.

Most of these registration efforts were begun several years ago, "but I think maybe we've gotten it down to a science at this point," county chairman Fuentes said.

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