Republicans Likely to Face Democrats in November for Key OC Congressional Races

JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

A US flag is used to signal voters during rush hour at the Orange County Registrar of Voters in Santa Ana on March 3, 2020.

Voters in Orange County’s four key Congressional districts likely will decide in November whether to re-elect the incumbent Democrats or oust them in favor of a Republican, according to the latest primary results posted Wednesday.

In the northern 39th Congressional District, Rep. Gil Cisneros (D-Fullerton) is on track for a rematch against Republican Young Kim, a former state assemblywoman.

As of Wednesday evening, Kim had nearly 6,600 votes over Cisneros, down from her 10,000-vote by the end of election night. The 39th District includes Orange, San Bernardino, and Los Angeles counties, and each county’s election officials have different results reporting schedules. OC updated at 5 p.m. Wednesday, while San Bernardino updated at 2:30 a.m. and LA updated at 6 a.m.

Ballots will continue to be counted through at least Friday evening.

“Republicans tend to show up in greater numbers than Democrats in primaries, and typically the early numbers tend to favor Republicans and those who vote day of the election are Democrats,” said Chapman University political science professor Mike Moodian, who specializes in OC elections.

The top two vote-getters in each Congressional race will advance to November’s general election.

Cisneros narrowly beat Kim in 2018, when he came back from behind and won by just under 8,000 votes, or 3 percentage points.

A November match up looks set in the 48th Congressional District between Rep. Harley Rouda (D-Laguna Beach) and Republican OC Supervisor Michelle Steel. 

Rouda had a roughly 10,000-vote lead over Steel, despite starting election night down by roughly 2,000 votes.

Moodian said Cisneros and Rouda are OC’s two most vulnerable Democratic representatives in Congress, because their respective opponents, Kim and Steel, have name recognition and the backing of the Republican Party.

“I think they’re going to be the two incumbents who will be in for the fights of their lives in November, but we need to see what happens as more ballots are counted,” Moodian. 

Rep. Katie Porter (D-Irvine) had nearly 66,000 votes in the 45th District race, ahead of the next highest voter-getter so far, Mission Viejo Councilman Greg Raths, who trailed at about 25,500, followed by Laguna Hills Councilman Don Sedgwick, who was in third place at roughly 18,600 votes.

In the 49th District, Congressman Mike Levin (D-San Juan Capistrano), will face San Juan Capistrano Councilman Brian Maryott in November because they’re the only two on the district’s ballot.

Republicans are looking to recapture the four Congressional seats they lost in the 2018 election, when national Democrats targeted the districts after Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump in each of the districts in the 2016 election.

Steel started with a small lead when early returns were first posted, but Rouda eventually took the lead. 

The 39th District consists of the most northern portion of Orange County, including parts of Buena Park, Placentia and Anaheim Hills, and all of Yorba Linda, Brea, La Habra and Fullerton. It also reaches north to parts of neighboring Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties.

Voter registration is almost evenly split, with Democrats at 35 percent and Republicans with nearly 33 percent of the district’s 387,000 registered voters. No Party Preference voters make up over a quarter of voters. 

The 45th Congressional District encompasses Lake Forest, Irvine, Rancho Santa Margarita, Mission Viejo, and portions of Anaheim Hills, Orange, Tustin, Laguna Woods and Laguna Hills.

Voter registration in the 45th District still favors Republicans at 35.5 percent of the 435,000 registered voters. Democrats make up 32 percent and no party preference voters are 27 percent of the district.

Although Porter faced a registration disadvantage in the 45th District, she beat former unseated Republican Rep. Mimi Walters in 2018 by 12,500 votes, or a little over 4 percentage points.

The 48th District’s voter registration still favors Republicans, at nearly 38 percent of the district’s 420,000 voters. Democrats make up a little over 31 percent of the district, followed by no party preference at a quarter of the voters. 

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.

Despite the registration disadvantage Democrats face in the coastal district, Rouda beat longtime Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher in the 2018 general election by nearly 21,000 votes, or 8 percentage points.

Like the other key Congressional districts, Rouda came back from behind after being down during early returns in 2018.

Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at scustodio@voiceofoc.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio