Riverside County voted for President Obama in 2012, according to results released by the county Registrar of Voters on Monday, November 19th. Republican "Mitt" Romney had been leading in earlier reports. Now the vast 7,208 square-mile county in California's "Inland Empire" will change colors on national political maps.
Mr. Obama won Riverside County by 4,232 ballots (315,553 Obama vs. 311,321 Romney; 49.32% vs. 48.66%), according to returns released on November 19th. These figures likely will change as the registrar says that 33,000 provisional ballots remain to be processed.
Obama is the first Democratic presidential nominee to win Riverside County twice. In 2008 he won the county by nearly 15,000 voters (325,017 Obama vs. 310,041 McCain, 50.3% vs. 47.9%).
Aside from Obama, none of the Democrats who has won re-election has won Riverside County more that once. Democrat Bill Clinton won Riverside County in 1992 (Clinton 38.7% vs. Bush 37.1% vs. Perot 23.8%), but lost it in 1996 (Clinton 43.1% vs. Dole 45.6% vs. Perot 9.1%).
Franklin Roosevelt won Riverside County just once in his four presidential elections. F.D.R. narrowly won Riverside County in 1936 (17,011 Roosevelt vs. 16,624 Landon), becoming the first Democratic presidential nominee ever to win the county. F.D.R. lost Riverside County in 1932, 1940 and 1944.
Riverside County once was so staunchly Republican that it was the only California county that voted against Franklin Roosevelt and for Republican President Herbert Hoover in 1932. (Hoover won Riverside County by 1,357 votes in 1932; 14,112 Hoover vs. 12,755 Roosevelt; 50.2% vs. 45.4%.) Riverside was among the six California counties that voted for Republican Wendell Willkie and against a third term for Roosevelt in 1940 (along with Orange, Alpine, Santa Cruz, Sonoma and Lake counties). (Riverside County voted 21,779 Willkie vs. 20,003 Roosevelt; 51.4% vs. 47.2%). In 1944, Riverside was among the eleven California counties that voted for New York Republican Gov. Thomas Dewey and rejected F.D.R.'s fourth term (Imperial, San Benito, Sutter, Mono and Inyo counties joined the six counties that voted Republican in 1940) (Riverside County favored Dewey by 3,729 votes; 23,168 Dewey vs. 19,439 Roosevelt; 53.9% vs. 45.3%).
Since Riverside County was created in 1893, it has voted in 29 presidential elections. Democrats have won just five times: in 1936, 1964, 1992, 2008 and 2012, roughly once per generation. Obama is responsible for 40% of all successful Democratic presidential campaigns in Riverside County's history. Riverside County has voted Republican in 23 presidential elections since the county's creation. The only time that it voted for a third-party candidate was when it favored ex-President Theodore Roosevelt in 1912, when he ran with California Gov. Hiram Johnson on the "Progressive" presidential ticket.
The demographics of Riverside County have changed considerably since it was a sparsely populated land of desert and citrus groves a century ago. From 2000 to 2010, the Hispanic/Latino population increased 78%, from 560,000 in 2000 to nearly 1 million in 2010. Whereas, Hispanics/Latinos comprised 36.2% of Riverside County population in 2000, their share increased to 45.5% in 2010.
Riverside County voted solidly Republican in the 2004 presidential election. President George W. Bush defeated Democratic Sen. John Kerry by more than 93,000 votes and nearly 17 percentage points (322,473 Bush vs. 228,806 Kerry; 57.9% vs. 41.1%).
The 2012 election was good for Riverside County Democrats, as Jim Miller reported on the Riverside Press-Enterprise website on November 10th. The county elected two Democrats to the U.S. House of Representatives by comfortable margins. Democrat Dr. Raul Ruiz defeated Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R) in the 36th Congressional District (eastern Riverside County) (107,702 Ruiz vs. 96,562 Bono Mack; 52.7% vs. 47.3%). [See the Riverside Press-Enterprise's analysis of the Ruiz-Bono Mack congressional race by Jim Miller.] In the 41st Congressional District (Riverside-Moreno Valley area), Democrat Mark Takano won an open seat (97,215 Takano vs. 69,944 Tavaglione; 58.2% vs. 41.8%).
Not a single square mile of Riverside County has been represented by a Democratic congressman in the past 20 years (Rep. George Brown represented the Riverside city area in 1993). The last time that Palm Springs, the Coachella Valley and eastern Riverside County were represented by a Democratic congressman was 42 years ago in 1971 (Rep. John V. Tunney).
In addition, western Riverside County elected a Democrat to the 31st Senate District, a new open seat that covers Riverside, Moreno Valley, Corona and Norco. Democrat Richard Roth defeated Republican Jeff Miller (127,050 Roth vs. 105,376 Miller; 54.7% vs. 45.3%). See Jim Miller's analysis on the Riverside Press-Enterprise website.
The city of San Jacinto in Riverside County has the best record of any California city in following the national outcome. San Jacinto voted for the national electoral vote winner in every presidential election from 1964 to 2008. No other California city can match that record of voting for the winner in all twelve of those presidential elections. Once city-level data are released for the 2012 election, we will know if San Jacinto will extend its streak to thirteen in a row.
The city of Riverside also can claim to be among California's "presidential bellwether" cities. Riverside, Adelanto in San Bernardino County and Imperial Beach in San Diego County, are the trio of California cities that voted for all national popular vote winners from 1964 to 2008. Those three cities voted in 2000 for Al Gore, who won the national popular vote. They also voted for the winners of all eleven other presidential elections during that time period. If Riverside, Adelanto and Imperial Beach voted for President Obama in 2012, they will have extended their streak to thirteen.
In California gubernatorial elections since 1990, Cathedral City in Riverside County has the best record of any southern California city in following the statewide outcome, as discussed in this blog in 2010.