Orange's political pendulum stops swinging

This will go down as the year Orange County's swing between Republicans and Democrats finally came to a stop and landed on the left.

Orange is no longer up for grabs.

We now look an awful lot like Palm Beach County — one of the state's most heavily Democratic-leaning counties — but 10 degrees colder in the winter and no ocean view.

Last week's election confirmed what many have seen coming for much of the past decade: The increase in voters who are either Hispanic, young or both is dramatic.

" 'Dramatic' is an understatement," Orange County Republican Party Chairman Lew Oliver said.

OK, then: epic.

Tuesday, President Obama won Orange County with 59 percent of the vote, about the same as in Palm Beach.

That wasn't all.

Alan Grayson won his congressional seat with 63 percent. Newcomer Karen Castor Dentel ousted incumbent Republican state Rep. Scott Plakon. Joe Saunders, one of two openly gay members of the state House elected this year, won by 12 points against his GOP opponent. Linda Stewart buried former legislator Bob Brooks.

The Democratic fever spilled all the way down the ballot to the constitutional offices, where longtime and well-respected Republican Property Appraiser Bill Donegan was unseated by no-name Democrat Rick Singh.

Orange County was once the epicenter of the I-4 corridor in the middle of the largest swing state.

Now Orange appears frozen in the D column among the other counties along Interstate 4 that have more potential to sway from R to D.

Orange became a minority-majority county several years ago, with non-Hispanic whites making up just 46 percent of the population today. The number of Hispanics in Orange County surged by more than 83 percent in the past decade, and today they make up 28 percent of the county.

And the number of voters registered as Democrats has ballooned as well. Orange County hasn't gone for a Republican presidential candidate since it picked Bob Dole in 1996, and even that was only by about 500 votes.

The number of registered Democrats in Orange has grown by 97 percent since then to 295,833, creating a nearly 92,000-voter advantage over Republicans.

People such as Luis Ortiz, who opened Dabeni's Latin Restaurant & Bakery with out-of-this-world pastelillos, are part of the reason Democrats have such a solid lead.

Ortiz, who opened his restaurant on Michigan Avenue two years ago, voted for Obama.

"I've always been a Democrat," he told me. "When there is a Democrat, I vote for them."

And that's an obstacle for Republicans, an influx of people who aren't just Democrats, but loyal and unbending like last century's FDR Democrats.

Further complicating the math that once allowed the GOP to view Orange as potentially winnable is the exploding bastion of young liberals in the eastern section of the county — more specifically, the University of Central Florida.

CHICAGO

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