Democrats fighting to flip four Orange County GOP-held congressional districts appear to have weathered their first challenge: surviving Tuesday’s primary election to advance to November runoffs.
The four races have drawn national attention due to their potential to help Democrats shift the balance of power in Congress. But a glut of Democratic candidates in three of the contests threatened to split the party’s vote in a way that allows two GOP candidates to advance, locking out Democrats and thwarting a blue wave of enthusiasm.
But early Wednesday it appeared Democrats had dodged their nightmare scenario by finishing among the top two vote-getters in all four districts. National Democrats have targeted the four seats – which span Orange, San Diego, Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties – as some of 23 they’ll need to gain to retake the House.
In Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher’s coastal 48th District, the 30-year incumbent advanced to November. But Democrats were in a tight race for the second spot, with businessman Harley Rouda leading stem-cell biologist Hans Keirstead by 73 votes early Wednesday. A fourth competitor, former Orange County GOP Chairman Scott Baugh, has worried Democrats, who thought the prominent Republican could draw enough support to force an all-GOP General Election, but he trailed Keirstead by 1,146 votes.
It could be several days before it’s clear who will advance as the second-place finisher in the 48th District. There are still uncounted ballots in Orange County, including provisional ballots and mail-in ballots that arrived after Saturday. Even as Rouda’s camp issued a statement declaring victory early Wednesday morning, Keirstead’s campaign said the race was still “too close to call.”
In the 39th District contest to replace retiring GOP Congressman Ed. Royce, former Assemblywoman Young Kim took a lead in a field of 17 candidates, with Democrat philanthropist Gil Cisneros a likely second-place finisher to join her in a run-off.
“I think the results are telling us that people are looking for someone who can stay independent, not someone who is too far left or too far to the right,” said Kim, a former Royce staffer who was endorsed by the congressman.
In the race for the 49th District seat, which has been held by retiring Republican Congressman Darrell Issa, GOP Board of Equalization member Diane Harkey led the contest. Democratic environmental lawyer Mike Levin held the second most votes, while former U.S. State Department contractor Sara Jacobs, also a Democrat, trailed in third. But nearly half the precincts in San Diego County, Jacobs’ home, remained uncounted early Wednesday. The seat straddles Orange and San Diego counties.
“We worked really hard and this is still a Republican seat,” said Harkey, who was endorsed by Issa and the Republican parties of Orange and San Diego counties. “We’re going to carry it.”