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Rep. Mimi Walters (R-Laguna Beach) conceded defeat Friday morning and congratulated Democratic challenger Katie Porter on her victory in the 45th Congressional District race.
California State University, Fullerton political science professor Stephen Stambough, an elections scholar, said Democrats are on track to represent all seven of Orange County’s Congressional Districts.
“Democrats in Orange County have got to be thrilled. Not just for the 45th, but it looks like the 39th is going that way as well,” Stambough said.
In the 39th Congressional District, Democratic candidate Gil Cisneros took the lead over Republican candidate Young Kim, after Thursday’s ballot count was released.
Walters was virtually tied with Porter in a Nov. 2 poll from the New York Times leading up to the election. In September, Porter was ahead in the New York Times poll by five percent, just above the 4.5-point margin of error.
The 56-year-old 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. She’s a former investment banker and started her political career on the Laguna Niguel City Council in 1996, then served two terms in the state Assembly starting in 2004 and then the state Senate from 2008 to 2014.
Porter’s win is another victory for national Democrats, who targeted the 39th, 45th, 48th and 49th Congressional Districts after Hillary Clinton took all four — including the overall Orange County vote — in the 2016 election against Donald Trump. The Associated Press has declared Democratic victories in the 45th, 48th and 49th districts, so far. As of Friday, Democrats took the majority of the 435-member House.
Republicans in Orange County largely avoided national issues and instead railed against the state’s 12-cent gas tax and urged voters to vote “yes” on Proposition 6, which would have repealed the gas tax and would have required voter approval for future gas tax and vehicle fees.
The 44-year-old Porter, a consumer protection attorney, also railed against the gas tax and broke with the Democratic party.
“I can’t support higher taxes on Orange County families right now, especially given that Mimi Walters raised taxes…on middle class Orange County families … We obviously need infrastructure [improvements] in California and the region. This tax doesn’t do that for our community locally,” she told Voice of OC in September.
Porter, also a University of California, Irvine professor, criticized the Republican tax bill, advocated for higher taxes on corporations and medicare for all.
Stambough said, because of Trump, national issues didn’t favor Republicans and they should have instead focused on local issues like the homelessness crisis instead of the gas tax.
“As long as it’s nationalized in this area … it’s going to hurt the Republicans. So if the Republicans want to try to make it not nationalized, they have to go to issues much more area specific,” Stambough said. “For Orange County people, it’s not the gas tax — it’s homelessness. Come up with something along that line.”
In 2012, the first year after redistricting, Republicans held 43 percent of registered voters, a 15-point advantage over Democrats. Heading into 2018 Election Day, the Republican registration advantage fell to 36 percent of the vote, while Democrats made up 30.5 percent of voters. During that time, no party preference voters increased from 24 percent to 30 percent to 29 percent of voters.
As of Friday morning, before the evening ballot count update, Porter was ahead of Walters by 6,203 votes, or 2.4 points. When the first rounds of ballot counts were released Election Day, Walters was ahead of porter by 5.4 percentage points and by the end of election night, the gap narrowed to 3.4 points. The gap kept narrowing until Porter took the lead Nov. 13 by 261 votes, or 0.2 points and her lead has been increasing with each daily update.
Stambough said the district is still competitive and Democrats need to work to keep the seat, along with the other Congressional Districts.
“At the same time, it (the vote) didn’t go Democratic by a lot. Democrats might say demographic changes and Trump may still be unpopular in the area … but it’s still a competitive area,” he said. “Democrats should be excited, though they shouldn’t be too excited. It’s going to take a lot of work to keep the gains. It’s not something anybody thought would happen 10 years ago.”
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