Harley Rouda knows he is a statistical anomaly. All the research says people don’t switch political affiliations, even when they disagree with their party on key issues. It’s one of the inexorable truths of American partisanship.
“Your religious and political identity is given to you at birth, right?” Rouda, 57, told me recently, recounting his upbringing in a conservative, Christian household. “I don’t think anybody holds their hand up and says at 6, 7 or 8 years old, ‘Hey, Mom and Dad, I’m not feeling Christian or Republican. I’m thinking about making a switch.’ And that was true for me as well.”
Until one day it wasn’t true any longer.In 2017, Rouda, a one-time Reagan and Bush voter who had quietly severed his Republican ties to identify as an independent, made the rarest of transformations.
He registered as a Democrat with the express purpose of running against a 15-term Republican congressman in Orange County, a place famous as a redoubt of the California GOP. He won by 7 points.