By Pete Zarustica
Orange County is about as reliably conservative county as there is, having only gone Democratic only once (in 1936 for Franklin Roosevelt). It’s not exactly a “swing” area, but it has attracted the attention of presidents and presidential hopefuls from both major parties over the decades.
Of course, the best-known Orange Countian in White House circles is Richard M. Nixon, born in Yorba Linda in 1919 and a student at Fullerton High School until he transferred to Whittier High before his junior year.
He made his biggest local splash, of course, after his election to the presidency in 1968. Looking for a California respite from the hubbub of Washington D.C, he established a “Western White House” in 1969 in San Clemente that he called La Casa Pacifica.
For the next five and a half years it became a focus of national and international news, including the Watergate scandal and Nixon’s subsequent resignation. His presence in Orange County is preserved by Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda.
Ronald Reagan wasn’t an Orange County native, but made frequent visits to O.C. even before his political rise as governor and president. Probably his first and least-known visit was a visit to Garden Grove where a B film called “Juke Girl” was filmed in part in the orchards and berry fields in 1942.
The first sitting president to visit Orange County was probably President Benjamin Harrison, who came to Santa Ana in 1891. Harrison is best known for being the guy elected between the non-consecutive terms of Grover Cleveland. In the 1888 election, Cleveland won the popular vote but lost in the Electoral College, something that would not happen again until the 2000 election.
Herbert Hoover, running for re-election, visited Orange County in 1932; Franklin Roosevelt, driving down the California coast in 1938, made a brief appearance in Laguna Beach.
Lyndon Johnson paid a visit in 1965 for the opening of the Irvine campus of the University of California. Gerald Ford kicked off his 1976 re-election campaign with a big event in Fountain Valley’s Mile Square Park.
Barack Obama has visited Orange County for private fund-raising events and it’s likely that other “under-the-radar” events with presidents in office happened as well.
Presidents-to-be and former presidents who came to the O.C. comprise a long list, including both George Bushes, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. The principal attractions have generally been Disneyland in Anaheim or the Crystal Cathedral (now Christ Cathedral) in Garden Grove.
Probably the most famous politician to visit the county who didn’t become president was Robert F. (Bobby) Kennedy. In 1968, while running for the Democratic nomination he appeared in the Strawberry Festival parade in Garden Grove, and spoke to a crowd of thousands at the Bolsa Grande High School stadium.
Three days later, after winning the California primary, he was fatally wounded in Los Angeles.
Sources include OC Historical Blogspot, Wikipedia,
Categories: Orange County