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Congressional District 48: Steel Defeats Rouda, Reclaiming District For Republicans

An illustration shows Orange County Supervisor Michelle Steel and Democratic incumbent Harley Rouda in front of an outline of California superimposed with the letters "C-A" and the number "48."
(Illustration by Chava Sanchez/LAist)
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Orange County Supervisor Michelle Steel has defeated Democratic incumbent Harley Rouda, who conceded Tuesday in the 48th Congressional District race.

With Steel's victory, Republicans have reclaimed a seat they lost as part of the blue wave in the 2018 midterm elections, when Rouda unseated Congressman Dana Rohrabacher.

Rouda conceded in a statement on his campaign website. Steel, who is Korean American, thanked voters in a message of her own:

"In this election, you weren't simply voting for a person, but also for the idea that the American Dream is alive and well in Orange County. This vote showed that minorities who may look or speak differently than most not only have a place in this Republican Party but can be elected to the United States Congress."

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WHAT'S AT STAKE

Freshman Congressman Harley Rouda famously unseated predecessor Dana Rohrabacher as part of the blue wave that swept longtime red districts in Orange County during the 2018 midterm elections.

Now, the former businessman is the incumbent in a closely watched race over whether the 48th District will stay in the Democratic column. His Republican challenger Michelle Steel is a well-known local politician who currently serves as the chair of the Orange County Board of Supervisors.

Harley Rouda

Rouda, an Ohio native, oversaw a real-estate brokerage firm founded by his father before the company was sold. In 2007, Rouda and his family resettled in Orange County where he was the chief executive of the real estate services firm Trident Holdings Inc. A former Republican, Rouda joned the Democratic Party in 2017 and entered the race to take on Rohrabacher, a 30-year Congressman who had come under fire for waving off Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

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He beat Rohrabacher by seven points but he's expecting a tighter race two years later. His district still has more registered Republicans than Democrats, even though the opposite is true for the rest of the county.

Rouda touts his willingness to work across the aisle in his two years in Congress, saying his bipartisan bona fides helped him to get three bills passed in his first term, including legislation that bans the use of federal funds to buy rail cars from manufacturers linked to the Chinese government

Michelle Steel

Before she reached the upper echelons of local politics, Michelle Steel's claim to fame was in 2006 becoming the top-ranked Korean American elected official when she was voted onto the California State Board of Equalization.

Steel was born in South Korea to parents whom she said fled North Korea. She was raised in Japan where her father served as a diplomat. Her family moved to southern California, where they opened a clothing store in Los Angeles. After studying at Pepperdine University, Steel worked for the family business and married Shawn Steel, a leading GOP activist in California who helped usher her into politics.

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As an OC supervisor, Steel has helped to lead the county through the pandemic and stresses her attention to the needs of small business and her district's large Asian American community.

CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT 48

The 48th Congressional District runs along coastal Orange County and includes the beach cities of Costa Mesa, Huntington Beach and Laguna Beach as well as parts of Little Saigon, the multi-city community of the world's largest Vietnamese diaspora.

More than half the population is white, but the district's Asian and Latino populations are growing, and each accounts for about one-fifth of residents.

The 48th district was traditionally red for decades, with Dana Rohrabacher representing the electorate for 30 years in Congress. But Rohrabacher was ousted from office in the blue wave of 2018 that flipped several districts in Orange County. While the seat is now held by Democrat Harley Rouda, registered Republicans continue to outnumber Democrats, 38.2% to 32.9%. But almost a quarter of voters are registered as "no party preference," leading both parties to heavily court the independents.

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A Note On The Results

  • The first results released included early voting, including mail-in ballots received before election day. In the past, local election officials have said all votes received and processed by the day before the election (in this case, Monday Nov. 2) are included in the first count. However, the high volume of mail-in ballots may mean that's not the case this election.
  • Keep in mind that in tight races particularly, the outcome may not be determined for some time.
  • In California, ballots postmarked on or before Nov. 3 may be counted toward the results as long as they arrive within 17 days of the election.
  • Results are finalized by county election officials 30 days after election day.

YOUR BALLOT

You can track the status of your ballot:

If your mail-in ballot is rejected for any reason (like a missing or mismatched signature), your county registrar must contact you to give you a chance to fix it. In Los Angeles County, the registrar will send you a notification by mail and you have until Nov. 28 to reply and "cure" your ballot.

HOW WE ARE COVERING THIS ELECTION

The unprecedented number of early voters and mail-in ballots this election means it's going to take more time to get votes counted. Our priority will be sharing outcomes and election calls only when they have been thoroughly checked and vetted. To that end, we will rely on NPR and The Associated Press for race calls. We will not report the calls or projections of other news outlets. You can find more on NPR and The AP's process for counting votes and calling races here, here and here.

OTHER RESULTS WE ARE FOLLOWING CLOSELY

In L.A.

Statewide

Congress