Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa) will advance to the November general election, while the battle for the number two spot narrowed Wednesday morning to a 73-vote lead for Democrat Harley Rouda over fellow Democrat Hans Keirstead.

With all precincts reporting at 1 a.m. Wednesday, Rouda had 18,182 votes while Keirstead had 18,109, according to the county Registrar of Voters. There still are an unknown number of ballots mailed Tuesday that won’t arrive at the Registrar’s office for a couple of days plus paper ballots that were turned in at polling places Tuesday and need to be counted.

Republican Scott Baugh, a former Rohrabacher ally, trailed the two Democrats with 16,963 votes.

In an effort to avoid a party shutout, at least three Democrats—Rachel Payne, Michael Kotick and Laura Oatman —dropped out after the March 9 candidate filing deadline, which meant their names still appeared on the ballot. Kotick and Oatman endorsed Rouda while Payne didn’t endorse anyone.

Republican candidate Stelian Onufrei also dropped out of the race in April in an attempt to strengthen the GOP’s chances of winning — after the filing deadline — and endorsed Baugh.

Even though Payne, Kotick, Oatman and Onufrei “dropped out” of the race, the former candidates still drew a total of 5,800 votes

In a news release, Keirstead said the race was too close to call, but the headline on Rouda’s news release read “HARLEY ROUDA DECLARES VICTORY IN CAL-48” and “I know that all of us who are dedicated to defeating Dana Rohrabacher in the fall will unite together to beat him in November.”

In 2016, Democrat Hillary Clinton won the district by 1.7 percentage points over then-presidential candidate Republican Donald Trump.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), along with numerous other Democrat organizations, are targeting the 48th Congressional District, along with three others in Orange County,  as part of their nationwide attempt to win the 24 seats needed to gain control the 435-member House of Representatives.

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.

Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa) has the name identification advantage of an incumbent who has served in Congress for three decades, but opponents are criticizing him for his support of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his backing of legalized marijuana, among other issues.

Former Rohrabacher ally, Scott Baugh, launched attack ads against Rohrabacher over the Russia and marijuana controversies. Baugh, a former Assemblyman and Orange County GOP chairman, is considered by local elections specialists to be a frontrunner.

Voter turnout in the 2016 presidential primary election kicked up to 43 percent, compared to 24 percent in 2014 off-year primary and 25 percent in the 2012 presidential primary.

Although the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee threw its weight behind Democratic candidate Harley Rouda by listing them on their “Red to Blue” program and paying for televised advertisements, the California Democratic Party endorsed candidate Hans Keirstead.  

“You know, the D-Trip (DCCC), is not exactly known for making great choices. I’m really proud to have the endorsement from the California Democratic Party,” Keirsrtead told MSNBC Monday morning.

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

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