Longtime Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa) and Democratic challenger Harley Rouda were virtually tied in the 48th Congressional district race, according the updated ballot count at 1:30 a.m. from the Orange County Registrar of Voters.
Rouda had a small 2,774-vote lead, 1.4 percent, over Rohrabacher out of the 180,524 ballots counted so far. Rohrabacher initially had an 81-vote lead. It could take weeks to get the complete count in Orange County’s tight races.
Almost all of the Election Day votes on electronic voting machines have been counted, though there remain an unknown number of mail-in and provisional ballots left to count.
Editor’s Note: This article is updated with new counts on election night. The final update to the article was at 1:54 a.m. The most recent update was at 1:30 a.m. See an archive below of each Voice of OC update.
The GOP has been slowly losing its edge in voter registration in the district. In 2012, Republicans held 44 percent of voters compared to the Democrats’ 28 percent. Now Republicans make up 38 percent of registered voters in the district, compared to Democrats’ 30 percent. During the same time frame, no party preference voters grew from 23 to 27 percent of voters.
National Democrats targeted the district as part of their drive to gain at least 23 seats in the 435-seat U.S. House of Representatives, which would secure the majority. Hillary Clinton beat President Donald Trump in the district by nearly two percentage points. The coastal Orange County district includes Huntington Beach, Seal Beach, Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, Fountain Valley; and parts of Westminster, Garden Grove, Santa Ana, San Juan Capistrano, Aliso Viejo and Laguna Niguel.
Rohrabacher easily won reelection in 2016 by a 16-point margin and previous elections show the same type of margin.
Recent polling showed the race was a dead heat. A Sept. 8 poll from the New York Times showed Rouda and Rohrabacher tied and an Oct. 4 Los Angeles Times poll also had the two at a tie. The New York Times released another poll Nov. 4 that again showed the race was a tie.
Rouda fundraised $7.3 million, while Rohrabacher raised $2.4 million, according to the Federal Elections Commission website.
Voter turnout in the June primary election was 45 percent. Rohrabacher and the five GOP candidates received votes from 53 percent of ballots casted and Rouda, along with seven Democratic candidates, got 46 percent of the vote.
Turnout in midterm elections is generally lower than presidential years. The district voter turnout for the June 2014 midterm primary was nearly 25 percent. And 2018’s primary turnout is close to 2014’s general election turnout of 46 percent.
Rohrabacher was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1988 and has historically won reelection by double-digit point leads. A former speechwriter and special assistant to Ronald Reagan, the 71-year-old Rohrabacher has been criticized for his ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, pro-Russia views and his push to legalize weed. The Congressman even recalled a drunken arm wrestling match with Putin that happened over 20 years ago, which Rohrabacher said he lost.
The nearly 30-year Congressman took a hard stance on illegal immigration leading up to the 2018 general election.
Rohrabacher and Rouda had their first and only debate Oct. 2 on PBS SoCal’s Inside OC with Rick Reiff. With rolling cameras and hot mics, Rouda and his campaign fought with Rohrabacher and his campaign staff before the debate started over whether they could use notes while on the air.
Reiff asked what Rohrabacher’s top issues where and the Congressman said it was border security and illegal immigration.
Reiff also asked Rohrabacher about giving Dreamers a shot at legal status or citizenship, the Congressman said, “Illegal immigrants come here and giving them citizenship … means millions and millions more will come and our system will breakdown. It’s in the process of breaking down now. Our neighborhoods aren’t safe, our schools are inundated and we are punishing our own people by providing limited resources to people who are here illegally.”
The political newcomer Rouda, a 56-year-old real estate investor, was a Republican until 1998 when he switched parties. Rouda’s come under fire from Republicans in the district for saying he supported Medicare for everyone when a moderator, at an undated debate before the primary election, asked if he would give Medicare to undocumented immigrants. His campaign later said Rouda misspoke and meant to say all legal residents.
“But certainly making sure that we have healthcare available to all … that we protect medicare, protect social security … create good middle class jobs,” said Rouda Oct. 15 when Reiff asked about top priorities. “We need to get new blood in place so we can get rid of this partisan bickering and move country and community forward.”
ELECTION COUNT UPDATES:
[8:05 p.m. Election Day, Nov. 6] The first reported election count showed Rohrabacher tied with Rouda. Rohrabacher had a razor-thin lead by 81 votes out of the 104,821 votes that have been counted so far.
[11 p.m. Election Day, Nov. 6] The article was updated to reflect the 11 p.m. counts from precinct ballots, along with vote-by-mail ballots. The updates showed Rohrabacher and Rouda were virtually tied — Rouda had a slim 600-vote lead.
[1:30 a.m. Nov. 7] The article was updated to reflect the count from the OC Registrar of Voters. The 1.4 percentage point margin has stayed relatively the same for Rouda since the 11 p.m. update.
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