Incumbent Democratic Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez leads her Republican challenger, State Assemblyman Van Tran, by a wide margin, with 191 out of 257 precincts reporting.
Sanchez has 51 percent of the vote, and Tran has 42.1 percent.
Both camps say they are preparing for a long night, and Sanchez said provisional ballots could play a role as many Santa Ana voters found themselves at the wrong polling place.
“People went to polling places they’ve gone to for years and were told they were in the wrong place,” Sanchez said. “Many of our voters had to cast provisional ballots.”
Orange County Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley acknowledged that poll sites were added to Santa Ana because of an expected high turnout. He said that everyone was given their polling place on their sample ballot.
“I’m used to this, I’ve been through a lot of them,” Kelley said, referring to close elections.
Nonetheless, Sanchez said she was heartened by the early absentee results, given that Republicans are more likely to mail their ballots in.
“I’m pretty excited at this point,” she said.
Tran said he and his supporters are girding for a long night.
“Expect a long tug of war,” said Tran from his campaign headquarters in Garden Grove.
Sanchez focused her campaign as a lawmaker that’s been able to deliver for her district, whether it was for school funding or for freeway widening. She also touted her role as a senior military committee leader in Congress, having traveled frequently to Iraq and Afghanistan.
She connected Tran to the failed Sacramento budget process and characterized Tran’s policies as too right-wing for the 47th Congressional District.
It was Sanchez’s toughest re-election effort since she first appeared on Orange County’s political scene in 1996 when she beat one of the most colorful conservatives, Rep. Bob Dornan.
Some national tracking polls predicted the race was a toss up, triggering significant fundraising attention from national Republican leaders.
With Republicans poised to take over the House of Representatives this year, Tran was able to marshal significant financial and campaign support from national Republican leaders throughout his campaign.
Tran focused on Sanchez’s long tenure as a congresswoman, taking specific aim at her legislative record, which he described as weak. He also attempted to connect Sanchez with national polls showing that voters are frustrated with Washington politics.