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Why the Placer County Republican stronghold is safe for now, even with a local Joe Biden win

Despite years of opting for Republican candidates, Placer County's voters are leaning in favor of Joe Biden.
Credit: AP

PLACER COUNTY, Calif. — The blue tint on Placer County for the 2020 election is a bit of new sight for the area.

Placer County has strong Republican registration numbers, and in past presidential contests, they opted for George W. Bush, John McCain, Mitt Romney, and Donald Trump in 2016. However, in the course of four years, the county has suddenly found itself favoring Democrat Joe Biden for president.

Kristina Flores Victor, a political science professor at Sacramento State University, said Placer County’s new look on the election map doesn’t spell the end of the county's Republican values or their Republican Party.

“I don’t think that Placer County voting for Joe Biden in 2020 is the end of the Republican Party in Placer County,” she said. “Definitely not.”

Accounting for district-wide down-ballot contests, Rep. Doug LaMalfa still leads in District 1 for the House of Representatives, and Rep. Tom McClintock still leads in District 4. State Senator Brian Dahle leads his state senate race. Assemblymember Megan Dahle leads her Assembly race, Asm. Kevin Kiley leads his Assembly race and Asm. Frank Bigelow went unopposed.

“That’s not showing that the district is going blue or really even turning purple,” Victor said. “That’s just saying that they didn’t prefer the person at the top of the ticket.”

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In terms of candidates, Californians are used to a slightly different kind of Republican than other states. Victor said you might expect your archetypal California Republican to be a fan of limited government and limited taxes, but it might not be surprising to find them a little more left of center on social issues. She said one example might be former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, though she noted that some debate him as an example.

“The typical kind of California Republican, I don’t think is the same as the typical Republican in Alabama or Texas where there might be more of an element of religious conservatism,” Victor said.

She said some people could pull back from a candidate if the head of the party wasn't emphasizing similar values to their own. 

In this case, she said COVID-19 served as a huge variable in the election and the president’s leadership on the issue is front of mind. Victor said it's possible that some people didn’t see their values reflected on that Republican presidential ticket but did see them on the down-ballot contests.

There are also other factors to consider for Placer County's newfound leaning. 

Victor said those include inland movement from former Bay Area residents changing demographics, the disapproval in the president’s COVID-19 response, the decline in people identifying as Republican in the state and the increase in no party preference voters, and potentially a shift in people’s partisan identity.

Even with all the factors, this might not be the whole story for why Placer County is leaning toward Biden in the election, and Victor said a lot of that has to do with the strong performance of Republicans on the down-ballot in their districts.

“I do think it’s a little bit of a shift away from Donald Trump himself, as the candidate, and not necessarily a shift in the complete partisan identity of the district,” Victor said.

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Despite the current lean toward Biden for president, there’s no strong evidence to suggest that Placer County will be a long-term rider of the “blue wave” in California, according to Victor.

“It’d probably be good to wait until the next midterm elections and see what happens then…those down-ballot races were pretty strong, so I think Placer is probably safe for now,” she said.

Editor's Note: This article was written during a period when President-Elect Joe Biden was leading in early vote results. President Trump has since regained the lead since the latest results were released, but Placer County estimates it has 42,000 ballots remaining to be processed, meaning the lead could change again. Ballots postmarked on Election Day can be received by Placer County until Friday. Nov. 20. Results are updated Tuesday and Friday afternoons until the election is certified. Click here for the latest results from Placer County.

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