Democratic Congressional candidate Mike Levin held 53.5 percent of the vote over Republican Diane Harkey’s 46.5 percent in the 48th district race, according to the updated ballot count released Wednesday evening.
The seven-point lead spurred Levin to declare victory Wednesday afternoon over his opponent Harkey in the 49th district race.
“Thanks to all of YOU, we have finally flipped California’s 49th District!” Levin tweeted.
The Los Angeles Times and the Associated Press called the 49th Congressional district race for Levin, who had a nearly 12,500-vote lead Wednesday afternoon over Harkey, before updated ballot counts were released in the evening. That lead stayed the same after Wednesday’s count was released.
Harkey’s campaign didn’t return calls or emails asking if she plans to concede. Her campaign didn’t host an election night party either.
Newport Beach-based pollster Adam Probolsky said it would be difficult for Harkey to regain lost ground.
“I think it would be pretty tough … the polls showed a much more robust win for Levin, so I think you got to give Harkey some credit to making it more competitive than conventional wisdom suggested. I think it would be rough to swing those numbers,” Probolsky said.
As of Wednesday evening, another estimated 418,000 Orange County ballots hadn’t been counted, and tens of thousands of additional ballots were estimated to still be traveling through the mail, according to county Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley.
San Diego County had 490,000 ballots left to count as of Wednesday evening. It has 75 percent of the 49th district’s 409,700 registered voters, tallied just under 130,000 votes.
The Orange County portion of the district has 102,000 registered voters and tallied 48,300 votes as of Wednesday evening.
Since the first round of counts came out after polls closed election night, Levin maintained a lead over Harkey.
Republicans held a little more than a three-point edge in voter registration districtwide, as of Nov. 6. But, in San Diego County, it was the first time since new district lines were drawn in 2011 that Democrats took a slim lead over Republicans in voter registration by 3,000 voters. In Orange County, Republicans outnumber Democrats by 18,000 voters. Most of the district is in coastal northern San Diego County, but it includes the southern tip of Orange County — including San Juan Capistrano, Dana Point and San Clemente.
Chapman University professor Mike Moodian said Levin’s lead would be bigger, if not for the concentration of Orange County Republicans in the district.
“The Republican voters in Orange County didn’t help Levin very much … it was really the northwest portion of San Diego County that carried it over. So it also shows you, yes South Orange County is still conservative — it’s a strong red area,” said Moodian, a California politics specialist.
California State University, Fullerton political science professor Steve Stambough said the 49th Congressional district race, along with other races, show a competitive political scene is emerging in Orange County.
“I think it shows that it’s going to be a more competitive two-party county and you see that in a number in the races actually,” Stambough said.
Levin, a 40-year old environmental attorney who pushes for clean energy, had been campaigning since March 2017. Harkey, the 67-year old former Assemblywoman, didn’t enter the race until January when Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista) announced he would not seek reelection. She took stances against the state’s 12-cent gas tax and spoke at Yes on Proposition 6 events organized by Republican Carl DeMaio, a former San Diego city councilman.
“It tells you the importance of a campaign and the importance of a candidate,” Stambough said about Levin’s efforts.
Moodian said Levin’s apparent victory could help local Democrats start a “farm team,” meaning they will begin to push candidates for city councils, school boards and county supervisor seats.
“I think the Levin victory will spur a new farm team movement for Democrats in Southern California. Levin ran an excellent campaign, he raised a lot of money, he represented issues voters were really passionate about. That’s another big gain for Democrats. The fact that Darrell Issa held this seat for many years and it flipped blue is remarkable,” Moodian said.
He also said he doubts Harkey can come back from the wide margin.
“She’s done, yeah she’s done.”
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC reporter who covers south Orange County and Fullerton. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio