Republicans Flip Coastal OC Congressional Seat from Democrats as Harley Rouda Concedes

Michelle Steel for Congress campaign website

Michelle Steel, chairwoman of the OC Board of Supervisors, who won election to the 48th Congressional District in Nov. 2020.

Orange County Republicans cemented a victory in flipping back a Congressional seat they lost in 2018, after Democrat Harley Rouda conceded Tuesday to Republican OC Supervisor Michelle Steel in the coastal 48th District.

“We did not win this election. And while it isn’t the outcome we had hoped for, it’s never been more important for our leaders to hear the voice of the people, and to accept their judgement. I do,” Rouda said in a statement Tuesday morning.

Steel, who ran on a campaign of fighting against taxes and getting businesses back to work during the coronavirus pandemic, says she’s ready to get to work for her constituents.

“This victory has been hard-fought and hard-won, and I could not be more humbled to have your support nor more honored to serve our community in Congress. Now, let’s get to work,” she said in a Twitter post following Rouda’s concession.

The GOP win sets up a special election for Steel’s coastal 2nd District seat on the Orange County Board of Supervisors, expected to be held sometime in March though a date hasn’t yet been set.

Among the possible candidates are John Moorlach, a Republican who represented the district before Steel, and Katrina Foley, the Democrat mayor of Costa Mesa.

Republicans have a 5 percentage point advantage in party registration in the 2nd District, and an even bigger advantage when it comes to voters who actually cast ballots in last week’s election.

Another Republican congressional candidate, Young Kim, has been leading in flipping the 39th Congressional District in north Orange County, as vote counting continues.

Local Republicans were ecstatic about Steel’s victory, saying it’s a sign that the GOP is making a comeback in OC.

“In 2018 the Democrat’s ‘blue wave’ flipped four Orange County congressional districts. Michelle’s victory signifies the start of the Orange County comeback for Republicans,” said Orange County Republican Party Chairman Fred Whitaker. 

“Michelle Steel ran an incredible campaign and with the help of hundreds of volunteers and supporters we flipped the 48th and defeated the first California Democrat incumbent member of Congress since 1994.”

Democrats pointed to apparent victories in other seats – and Joe Biden’s lead in the presidential vote in OC – to say the momentum is on their side.

“If anybody’s watching the election results, folks will see that we took so many seats, starting with two state Senate seats that we took away from the Republicans. And you know, so many seats up and down Orange County, [whether] it’s in red parts or purple parts or blue parts of Orange County,” said Ada Briceño, chairwoman of the Orange County Democratic Party, in an interview.

“Yes, it’s hard to see Harley lose that race. But we’re coming back, we’re going to after that in 2022. So we have momentum, we have excitement,” she said.

Rouda said in his concession that he plans to run again in 2022, while calling on Americans to work together regardless of political party.

“We are not Republicans. We are not Democrats. We are not enemies. We are Americans. All of us. Even when we disagree,” Rouda said in his statement.

“We ought to have a political system that is built on facts, rewards honesty, and strengthens the bonds that tie us to each other, rather than ripping them to shreds.”

Republicans say they’ll be working hard to hold on to Steel’s seat on the Board of Supervisors.

“Her victory will leave a vacancy on the Orange County Board of Supervisors to be decided by a special election in 2021,” Whitaker said in his statement.

“We will be prepared to fight and hold our 4-1 majority on the Board of Supervisors.”

Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at [email protected].