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Orange County Is Looking More Purple Today

In District 48, voter Jessica Harder crams before going to her local polling station on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018 at Taco Asylum in Costa Mesa, California. (Photo by Annie Lesser for LAist)
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Updated Wed., Nov. 7 at 2:45 p.m.

Democrats declared victory Wednesday in two of five closely watched Southern California congressional races. All of them center on districts that have traditionally been represented by Republicans.

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Republicans were poised to win in two of them while one district, in coastal Orange County, is still too close to call.

Here are the results as of Wednesday at 1:30 p.m.:

In the 25th District, which covers a swath of Ventura County and northern L.A. County that includes Santa Clarita, Simi Valley, Palmdale and Lancaster, Democrat Katie Hill has defeated Republican Congressman Steve Knight. He conceded to the race at 10:30 a.m. via a voicemail to Hill, according to a statement released by her campaign. The statement from Hill said, in part:

"This election was historic. Our goal from day one was to empower this community to have a voice... This is just the beginning. I also want to thank Representative Knight for his dedication and service to this community and our country."

• In the 39th District, which spans L.A, Orange and San Bernardino counties, Republican Young Kim had a 2.6 percentage point lead over Democrat Gil Cisneros.

• In the 45th District, Republican incumbent Mimi Walters held a 3.4 percentage point lead over Democrat Katie Porter. The Orange County district includes Irvine, Tustin, Mission Viejo and parts of Laguna Niguel, among several other communities.

• In the 48th District, Democrat Harley Rouda was leading by 1.4 percentage points over incumbent Republican Dana Rohrabacher. The Orange County district includes Huntington Beach, Seal Beach and parts of Westminster, Santa Ana and San Juan Capistrano, plus several other communities.

• In the 49th District, AP declared Democrat Mike Levin the winner over Republican Diane Harkey, with a 7 percentage point lead. The district, which includes northern San Diego coastal cities Oceanside, Vista, Carlsbad and Encinitas as well as Camp Pendleton, was represented by Republican Congressman Darrel Issa for nearly two decades. Back in January, Issa announced he wouldn't seek re-election. Earlier this week, he predicted the district would turn blue.

In other closely watched races, incumbent Republican Duncan Hunter was leading Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar by roughly 8 percentage points in the 50th Congressional District covering eastern San Diego County and southwestern Riverside County.

And in the Central Valley's 10th Congressional District, Democrat Josh Harder was trailing Republican incumbent Jeff Denham by 2 percentage points.

These races have gained national attention this year as Democrats spent tens of millions in the hope of flipping them from traditionally Republican to Democrat. In all of them, with the exception of the 50th Congressional District, voters elected Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election.

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Changing demographics, notably an aging, white population and an influx of Latinos and Asian immigrants, have shifted the politics in these once reliable Republican districts.

Health care, immigration, taxes and climate change have all been big issues in the Southern California races. But many residents indicated that their vote was really motivated by their feelings about President Trump.

Colette McCall, a former Republican from Costa Mesa, started campaigning for Rouda after Trump won the presidency in 2016. It was her first time volunteering for an election campaign.

"'They've divided us," she said of Republican leaders in recent years. "America's united, that's what we're supposed to be."

In the 39th District, Sylvia Rockafellow, a Christian originally from Indonesia, lives in Rowland Heights. She voted for Republican Young Kim, in part to show support for President Trump and in part because she thinks Kim represents her Christian values.

"I know that she's a God-believer," she said.

This sharp divide among voters translated into heavy interest in this year's midterms.

Orange County Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley said he hired extra staff to handle expected record turnout. The number of people who voted early this year before Election Day at several vote centers and pop-up polling stations was nearly double that of the 2016 presidential election, Kelley said.

As of Tuesday, Orange County had received about 440,000 mail-in ballots, not including mail-in ballots dropped off at polling stations. That's a 44 percent increase from the last midterm election in 2014.

"People are fired up," Kelley said, "regardless of what side you're on in terms of the direction the country is going or leadership at the federal level."


Katie Hill speaks to her supporters at The Canyon restaurant in Valencia on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. (Photo by Susanica Tam for LAist)

Heading into the election, most polls showed the two competitors in this district, incumbent Republican Congressman Steve Knight and Democrat Katie Hill, running neck to neck.

Although Knight bested his Democratic competitor in the 2016 general election by about 16,000 votes, the district swung to Hillary Clinton by about 18,000 votes in that year.

Knight is a U.S. Army veteran who served 18 years with the Los Angeles Police Department. He was elected to the Palmdale City Council in 2005, and served in both houses of the California State Legislature. He was first elected to Congress in 2014.

Hill served as the executive director of People Assisting The Homeless (PATH), one of Southern California's largest homeless service providers, and a developer of permanent supportive housing for formerly homeless people.

With the results still uncertain, Hill told supporters: "No matter what the outcome is, this is only the beginning of the fight." And she alluded to what could be a long wait before a final count. "We have a few hours left until we know, but it could go a lot longer."

Despite multiple calls to his campaign, Knight could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.

In this election, Hill benefited from a national fundraising effort that gave her a three-to-one cash advantage over Knight: about $7.3 million compared to Knight's $2.4 million.

The race attracted lavish spending from so-called Super PACs based in and outside of California. This spending also tilted towards Hill, generating about $12.1 million in her favor compared to about $5.9 million for Knight.

--Contributed by Matt Tinoco


Young Kim speaks to media officials at her election night party at the STC Center on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Rowland Heights, California. (Photo by Morgan Lieberman for LAist) (Morgan Lieberman for LAist)

In January, Congressman Ed Royce announced he would not seek re-election after serving in the House since 1993. His district went for Hillary Clinton in 2016, a sign of the shifting demographics there.

This district mainly falls in northern Orange County but takes in parts of Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties.

In this traditionally Republican district, two people of color are facing off: Democrat Gil Cisneros and Republican Young Kim.

Cisneros is a Latino philanthropist turned politician best known for winning a $266 million lottery jackpot in 2010. He bet on a strong turnout from the area's sizable Latino community -- about one-third of the population -- but was hampered earlier in his campaign by a sexual harassment allegation that was later recanted.

Gil Cisneros speaks at his election party at Casa Bonita Event Center on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Fullerton, California. (Photo by Morgan Lieberman for LAist) (Morgan Lieberman for LAist)

Kim is a former aide to Royce. She's served in the state Assembly, so has better name recognition in the district. A moderate Republican, she has sought to distance herself from President Trump by denouncing family separation and choosing yellow over red for her campaign colors.

While the results remained uncertained, Kim told supporters: " I feel great. I feel great about our chance. We have some time to go before we really know the final results. So I'm very cautiously optimistic that we're going to pull it off."

At his election party, Cisneros gave similar remarks: "Just be patient as the results come in, it's going to take awhile. We may not know who actually won for a long time, but stick there with me and keep the faith, because I have faith in you all."

With the results, the district could make history. If Young Kim wins, she would become the first Korean American woman voted into Congress, says Sam Yoon of the Korean Americans in Action, a civic engagement group.

The district also takes in areas such as Yorba Linda and Rowland Heights and is unique in that it includes swaths of Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino counties.

--Contributed by Emily Elena Dugdale


Mimi Walters addressing supporters who came to cheer her on at her office in Irvine, California, on Nov. 6, 2018. (James Bernal for LAist)

Republican Rep. Mimi Walters is fighting to hold on for a third term in office against an onslaught of outside spending and Democratic activism. Her challenger, Katie Porter, is a consumer protection attorney and professor at University of California, Irvine.

The Southern Orange County district includes Irvine, Tustin, and Mission Viejo.

Walters has praised the Trump administration for strengthening the economy and removing regulatory red tape, but she has distanced herself from the president on issues like tariffs and trade. She has tweeted her disapproval of separating families at the border.

Katie Porter addressing her supporters after the race is too close to call at her election campaign party at the Hilton Hotel in Irvine, California on Nov. 6, 2018. (James Bernal for LAist) (James Bernal for LAist)

Porter has thrown her support behind "Medicare-for-all" proposals and has criticized Walters for her vote supporting the Republicans' failed attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act. But in a move out of step with her party, Porter ran ads promoting her opposition to the gas and vehicle tax hike in California, which she says won't directly benefit 45th District residents.

Possibly to blunt attacks on her ACA vote, Walters was a co-sponsor of a non-binding House Resolution in September that expressed the idea that "protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions should be retained in law regardless of further amendments to, or the repeal of, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act."

She also joined as co-sponsor of a bill introduced by Rep. Knight to preserve protections for patients with pre-existing conditions in the event the ACA is struck down in court. These efforts by the Republicans have come under criticism as "window dressing" to deflect their opposition to ACA.

Walters, a former investment banker, was first elected in 2014. She cruised to victory in 2016, beating her opponent by 17 points, even while Hillary Clinton took the 45th District by 5 points. Registered Republicans in the district outnumber Democrats by 6 percentage points.

At a gathering election night, Porter told supporters: "We got to this place because we realized the painful and powerful lesson of 2016 that next time, next term, next year is not guaranteed."

--Contributed by Libby Denkman and Michelle Faust Raghavan


Dana Rohrabacher addresses the press at Skosh Monahans in Costa Mesa, Calif. on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. (Photo by Annie Lesser for LAist)

In coastal Orange County's 48th Congressional District, 30-year incumbent Dana Rohrabacher is in the political fight of his life. First elected in 1988, Rohrabacher has since handily won four re-elections in this traditionally Republican district.

But this year, polling showed him in a tight race with Democratic businessman Harley Rouda. The Cook Political Report has rated the race a toss-up.

A narrow majority of residents in the district voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in 2016. Republicans maintain a 3 percentage point advantage in registration over Democrats, but the gap has been narrowing in recent years.

Rohrabacher is a former speechwriter for Ronald Reagan with libertarian leanings. He has gained notoriety in recent years for his friendliness toward Russia and his skepticism of climate change. He's also been a champion for marijuana legalization.

Harley Rouda takes photos with his interns at his election night party on Nov. 6, 2018. (Annie Lesser for LAist)

Rouda is a real estate magnate and entrepreneur from Newport Beach. He is a former Republican who has pledged to fight against climate change and for "Medicare-for-all." He also says he wants to make Orange County a hub for clean energy technology.

--Contributed by Jill Replogle


(Photos courtesy of Diane Harkey and Mike Levin campaigns) (Courtesy of Diane Harkey and Mike Levin campaigns)

Liberal groups have had their sights set on the 49th DIstrict for well over a year, when protesters began regularly showing up to heckle longtime Rep. Darrell Issa at his district office in Vista.

The district includes southern parts of Orange County like Dana Point and San Clemente, and Northern San Diego County, including Oceanside and Camp Pendleton, the Marine Corps base.

Issa, a nine-term congressman, won his last reelection bid, in 2016, by a razor-thin margin over Democratic opponent Doug Applegate. Issa announced his retirement in January, leaving an open race to replace him.

After a bruising primary, State Board of Equalization member Diane Harkey emerged victorious from the Republican field of hopefuls to compete in the general election. Environmental attorney Mike Levin rose to the top of a well-funded Democratic bench.

Harkey formerly served in the state Assembly and was mayor of Dana Point. Levin has not held public office, but he was an active booster of Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential campaign and once served as the executive director of the Orange County Democratic Party.

Harkey was endorsed by President Trump and supported Republican policies like the tax overhaul, a border wall and withdrawal from the Paris climate accords.

As a regional director for the effort backing Proposition 6, which aimed to repeal recent fuel and vehicle tax increases in California, Harkey gained some viral fame with this quote from a Prop. 6 rally: "This is just fraud. It's forcing you to take bikes, get on trains, hose off at the depot and try to get to work. That does not work. That does not work with my hair and heels. I cannot do that and I will not do that."

Levin opposes the cap on state and local tax deductions in the GOP tax bill, saying it hurts California families. He favors a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients and touts his record as an environmental champion -- something President Obama also mentioned when he campaigned for Levin and other SoCal Democratic candidates.

--Contributed by Libby Denkman

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