Democrats trying to take four Orange County Republican congressional seats might have succeeded in sending a candidate to the November general election in each of the contested districts.

Orange County Registrar of Voters Neal Kelly said Wednesday there’s still an estimated 180,000 ballots that need to be counted, but it’s unknown how many are from which parts of the county.

In races like the 48th Congressional District, the uncounted ballots conceivably could swing the votes in favor of the Republicans — meaning Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa) could face Republican and former ally, Scott Baugh.

“That race is still very close, so it’s almost a three-way tie for second place. (Harley) Rouda and Hans Keirstead (both Democrats) are literally tied and Scott Baugh is about one percent behind Rouda, so I’m not ready to count Scott Baugh out yet,” said elections specialist Mike Moodian, a Chapman University political science professor.

The four seats have been targeted as part of a nationwide effort by Democrats to secure at least 23 seats in order to gain control of the 435-member U.S. House of Representatives.

48th Congressional District

It’s still too early to tell which candidate Rohrabacher will face in November because Keirstead and Rouda are just about tied, with Keirstead ahead by 45 votes as of 5 p.m. Wednesday. The roughly 180,000 outstanding ballots also could mean Baugh, who isn’t far behind the two Democrats, still could advance to November.

Here’s a breakdown of the the top vote-getters in the district.

  • Rohrabacher: 33,198 (30.4 percent)
  • Keirstead: 18,827 (17.2 percent)
  • Rouda: 18,782 (17.2 percent)
  • Baugh: 17,601 (16.1 percent)

Chapman University professor and elections specialist Fred Smoller also said there’s still a battle for the number-two spot.

“That could be a three-way race, but it’s certainly a two-way race,” Smoller said.

The district spans the coastal cities of Orange County from Seal Beach to Laguna Niguel and stretches east into parts of Westminster and Garden Grove. It also includes Huntington Beach, Costa Mesa, Fountain Valley, Newport Beach, Aliso Viejo and Laguna Beach.

The coastal district is home to 388,000 registered voters, according to the California Secretary of State’s May 21 registration report. Voter registration favors Republicans at 40 percent, a 10 point margin over Democrats. No party preference voters hold 25 percent of the district.

Moodian said if Baugh doesn’t advance to the general election, Keirstead or Rouda could pull some of the voters who supported Baugh in November.

“I think there’s an opportunity there to tap into the disenfranchised voters who normally support Dana (Rohrabacher), but are turned off by the controversial things that he says and does,” Moodian said.

Rohrabacher has ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, pro-Russia views and has pushed to legalize weed. He’s even recalled a drunken arm wrestling match with Putin that happened over 20 years ago, which Rohrabacher said he lost.

The OC Register reported in late May that he told a group of realtors he thinks it’s okay to not sell homes to people who are gay.

Smoller said longtime voters are comfortable with the 30-year member of Congress.

“A lot of his craziness has been priced in, so to speak, that there’s nothing Dana Rohrabacher can do any more (to turn off his supporters).”

39th Congressional District

Former Assemblywoman Young Kim, a Republican, will advance to the November general election and, unless the uncounted ballots drastically change the landscape, likely will face Democrat Gil Cisneros.

Tallying data from Orange, Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties, Kim had nearly 19,000 votes while Cisneros had 16,623. Republican Phil Liberatore was behind with 11,990 votes Wednesday evening. Democrat Andy Thorburn — who, like Cisneros, poured millions of dollars into his own campaign — had only 7,656 votes.

A Wednesday night news release from the Cisneros campaign said all the Democratic candidates have endorsed Cisneros, a Navy veteran.

Voters in the 39th district chose Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in 2016 by a margin of nearly nine points. It was the first time a Democrat won the county’s overall presidential vote in 80 years when the county backed Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt for president in 1936, the middle of the Great Depression.

According to the May 21 voter registration report from the California Secretary of State, the district is home to roughly 355,000 registered voters in the three counties. Orange County makes up the bulk of the district with nearly 217,000 voters.

The gap between Republicans and Democrats has narrowed over the years, with Republicans holding a slight edge at 35 percent of voters, followed by Democrats at 34 percent.

Smoller said given the turnout and party registration in the district, it’s going to be a competitive race in November.

Kim and other Republicans, like county Supervisor Shawn Nelson, didn’t enter the race until Rep. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton) announced his retirement in January. As of Wednesday evening, Nelson only had 5,596 votes.

“I was surprised by the fact that Shawn Nelson did so poorly in the 39th … he’s been on the supervisors — been visible for many years. It just shows you the strength and visibility of Young Kim,” Moodian said.

49th Congressional District

State Board of Equalization Chairwoman Diane Harkey will advance to November, but the uncounted ballots in Orange and San Diego counties mean the second spot still is uncertain.

Democrat Mike Levin had 19,226 votes while Democrat Sara Jacobs had 17,247 Wednesday evening.

Election officials in both counties still need to count thousands of mail-in ballots received on election day.

UC San Diego Political Science Department Chairman Thad Kousser said the race still is too close to call the number two spot, but the number of Democrats who were on the ballot didn’t splinter the vote enough to allow a shutout.

“Which is a surprise. And I think the Democrats, first, are breathing a big sigh of relief that they got anyone through. They finally get to solve their problem of coalescing around one candidate,” Kousser said.

The district touches the most southern cities in the Orange County, including San Juan Capistrano, Dana Point and San Clemente. The majority of the 49th stretches down the west side of San Diego county, ending before La Jolla. It also includes the U.S. Marine Corps’ Camp Pendleton.

Over 380,000 registered voters live within the district and nearly 95,000 are Orange County residents. Districtwide, Republicans still hold the edge at 36 percent of voters, with Democrats trailing at 31 percent. No party preference voters stand at 26 percent.

Like the 39th District, Republicans scrambled to enter the race after Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista) announced he wouldn’t seek reelection.

“I think this remains the Democrats’ best shot at a pick up. The clearest route to flipping a district. Of all the battleground congressional districts held by Republicans, this is the only one if you add up all the Democratic vote, you get 50 percent,” Kousser said.

Moodian agreed with Kousser’s assessment and added Democrats shouldn’t count Harkey out yet.

“I wouldn’t count out Harkey either — she knows how to win … she is an establishment Republican. That’s going to be a very good race to watch,” Moodian said.

45th Congressional District

Rep. Mimi Walters (R-Irvine) had over 53 percent of the vote Wednesday night and will face Democrat Katie Porter, who had nearly 20 percent of the vote.

Democrat Dave Min, who was behind at 17 percent, conceded Wednesday and offered his support to Porter, a fellow UCI professor.

The district is home to nearly 400,000 registered voters and encompasses Lake Forest, Irvine, Rancho Santa Margarita, and portions of Anaheim Hills, Orange, Tustin, Laguna Woods and Laguna Hills.

According to the latest data from the registrar, Republicans hold the majority of voters at 38 percent, while Democrats trail at 30 percent of voters. The no party preference voters make up nearly 27 percent of the district.

Despite the gap between the two parties in voter registration, Smoller said he thinks Walters could be threatened in November.

“Mimi (Walters) is in lockstep with Trump,” Smoller said, adding there’s a strong anti-Trump feeling around the district. “I see her (Walters) as very vulnerable.”

Smoller and Moodian conducted the Orange County Annual Survey that polls residents on the economy, local issues and political attitudes. It was released in April.

“Polling shows that Trump is also very unpopular in Orange County,” Moodian said of the survey.

He also said there’s going to be a battle of two completely different ideologies in November.

“It’s the one race where votes are really going to have a choice between two candidates who occupy two different ideological sides of the spectrum,” Moodian said, adding that Porter is very progressive while Walters sides with Trump.

Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC reporter who covers south Orange County and Fullerton. You can reach him at

Since you've made it this far,

You are obviously connected to your community and value good journalism. As an independent and local nonprofit, our news is accessible to all, regardless of what they can afford. Our newsroom centers on Orange County’s civic and cultural life, not ad-driven clickbait. Our reporters hold powerful interests accountable to protect your quality of life. But it’s not free to produce. It depends on donors like you.

Join the conversation: In lieu of comments, we encourage readers to engage with us across a variety of mediums. Join our Facebook discussion. Message us via our website or staff page. Send us a secure tip. Share your thoughts in a community opinion piece.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *