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Republican Congresswoman Rep. Mimi Walters is facing a close battle for re-election to the 45th Congressional District in Irvine next Tuesday, as Democrats mobilize behind consumer protection attorney Katie Porter in their bid to win a majority of seats in the House of Representatives, according to the latest New York Times poll.

The poll completed Thursday evening by the New York Times found Porter in a virtual tie with Walters, drawing 48 percent of those polled compared to 46 percent for Walters, but the results of the poll could fluctuate in either direction by five percent.

Election forecasting websites like the Cook Political Report and Inside Elections both rate the race as a toss-up, while FiveThirtyEight and the Center for Politics say the race “leans Democratic.”

Walters, first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2014, has enjoyed landslide victories in the district, easily winning by double-digits in 2014 and 2016.

But voters in Walters’ district, along with three other Republican-held congressional districts in Orange County, voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in 2016, 49.8 percent to 44.4 percent. Nationally, Democrats are hoping to flip at least 23 such seats to gain control of the 435-member House.

The 45th district is among 34 congressional races across the country where spending by outside groups has outpaced spending by candidates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Candidates in this race, which include people who ran during the primary election, have spent $12,637,219 so far, while outside groups have spent $13,572,058.

Walters’ campaign has spent almost $4.2 million so far this cycle, while Porter’s campaign has spent $5.3 million, according to the Federal Election Commission website.

Before she was elected to Congress, Walters, 56, was a longtime state assemblywoman and senator. A former investment banker, she began her political career after being appointed to the Laguna Niguel City Council in 1996, moving on to serve two terms in the State Assembly beginning in 2004 and then the Senate from 2008 to 2014.

Porter, 44, is a consumer protection attorney and law professor at the University of California, Irvine. In a crowded field of primary candidates, Porter ran to the left of her opponents, touting endorsements from politicians like Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

Since the June primary election, those endorsements have been used by Walters to paint Porter as a far-left liberal, “radical Katie Porter” according to one mailer paid for by Walters’ campaign.

Walters, like fellow Republicans defending their seats in districts that voted for Clinton, has tried to distance herself from Trump.

The New York Times poll found 49 percent of voters in the 45th District disapprove of Trump while 45 percent support him. And 50 percent said they want to see Democrats take control of the House while 46 percent want to see Republicans retain control.

The suburban 45th Congressional district is centered in Irvine and includes Tustin, Villa Park, Orange, Anaheim Hills, Laguna Hills, Lake Forest, Rancho Santa Margarita, Mission Viejo and parts of Aliso Viejo and Laguna Niguel.

Republicans have an almost six percent advantage of voter registration in this district over Democrats, with 36.4 percent of voters Republicans and 30.5 percent Democrats. Voters with no party preference are a close third at 29 percent.

For Democrats, turnout out by members of their party and capturing voters with no party preference will be key to overcoming their voter registration deficit in the 45th.

Midterm elections generally attract lower turnout than presidential elections. As the New York Times’ Nate Cohn observed in a recent article, data going back to the 1970s has shown when Democrats hold the presidency, Republicans have a big edge in turnout in midterm elections; when Republicans hold the presidency, Democrats also turn out in force during midterms.

According to Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley, as of Tuesday evening returned vote by mail ballots are 23 percent higher than they were this time before the last midterm election in 2014, and 35.6 percent behind returns in the 2016 election.

Voter turnout for the primary election was 42 percent, one point off the 2016 primary turnout and 20 points higher than turnout in the 2014 primary. In the 2014 midterm general elections, 43 percent of registered voters in the 45th district cast a ballot.

Voters without a party, however, tend to turn out at lower numbers than Democrats and Republicans, according to University of Southern California political science professor and voter engagement specialist Mindy Romero.

Democratic candidates received 46 percent of ballots cast in the June primary and Walters, the only Republican on the ballot, received 52 percent of ballots.

Voter turnout for the primary election was 42 percent, one point off the 2016 primary turnout and 20 points higher than turnout in the 2014 primary. In the 2014 midterm general elections, 43 percent of registered voters in the 45th district cast a ballot.

Spencer Custodio contributed to this report.

Contact Thy Vo at tvo@voiceofoc.org or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.

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