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Politics

California's 45th Congressional District: Republican Michelle Steel Will Face Democrat Jay Chen In November

A side-by-side collage of Congressional candidates. Jay Chen, an Asian American man in his 40s wearing a suit is on left, positioned against a blue backdrop. Michelle Steel, an Asian American woman in her 60s, is wearing a shift dress, with her arms crossed, and is positioned against a red backdrop.
Democrat Jay Chen and Republican Rep. Michelle Steel are front-runners in the race for the 45th House District, mostly in Orange County.
(Josie Huang/LAist)
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The Vote

About these results
  • These results will be updated periodically. Keep in mind that even after all precincts have been counted, there will still be ballots to count. In some cases, it could be weeks before the official outcome is clear.

The 45th Congressional District is headed to a November face-off between Michelle Steel, a Republican incumbent from another Orange County district, and Jay Chen, who has served in local office and run for Congress before.

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On Tuesday night, Chen had a slight early lead over Steel, but she had surpassed him by Wednesday morning. Running far behind them were Republican Long Pham and independent Hilaire Fuji Shioura.

It’s one of several toss-up races in California being closely-monitored nationally, as Democrats try to hold on to their slim majority in the House.

On election night, Chen's supporters gathered in the city of Orange, while Steel's backers were watching the results in Buena Park. Steel, however, chose to remain in Washington, D.C., because Congress is in session.

Chen was at a watch party for Orange County Democrats at a residence in Orange. He said he was “enthused” by his early lead, although he recognized many more had to be tallied. He added that the run-up to the primary has been a “trial run.”

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Chen said in the months leading up to the November general election, his campaign would be picking up the pace by “knocking on doors, making phone calls, and doing all the things that we needed to do need to do to win.”

“In 2020, Democrats didn’t go knock on doors because of the pandemic and that cost us a couple of points,” Chen said. “And so we’re going to make sure that we do all the right things, knock on those doors and get our voters out to the polls.”

The economy and high gas costs are expected to be hot topics on the campaign trail. Chen said the solution is to go after oil companies who are recording profits while Americans are paying record prices at the pump.

“Making sure that we hold accountable those corporations that are price gouging us, I think that’s that’s gonna be critical and making sure that we fix our supply chains, unclog our supply chains and bring manufacturing back into the United States,” Chen said.

Steel addressed her supporters by Zoom from Washington, D.C. Dozens had gathered in her campaign office in Buena Park, along with her staff and her husband, Shawn Steel, a long-time member of the California Republican Party. The room erupted in applause when the incumbent's face showed up on the television screen.

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“It looks good, but November is a real fight,” she said. “I’m coming back [to Southern California] on Thursday night and I’m gonna start walking again. And you know what, we’re not for the rest until we win.”

Steel said she would keep pressing on her top issues.

“I have done exactly what I promised when you elected me — fighting for the tax relief and opposing crazy and reckless spending in D.C. that caused inflation,” she said.

How We Got Here

Steel formerly represented the 48th Congressional District, but redistricting created a new coastal district that drew in Irvine, home to Democratic Rep. Katie Porter, who soon announced she would be running for that House seat.

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Avoiding a potential match-up with a nationally-known incumbent, Steel shifted her sights to the 45th, even though voter registration gives Democrats a slight edge there. Chen, who had been planning a run against Republican incumbent Young Kim in another House district that straddles Los Angeles and Orange counties, also made the decision to turn to the 45th. He said redistricting had created an “AAPI influence district.

The competition between the front-runners has, for the most part, played out predictably. Like candidates in every other race, Chen and Steel each identify inflation and gas prices as top concerns. They are split on the pressing election issue of abortion rights, with Chen in favor and Steel calling for restrictions.

Both have racked up a raft of endorsements. Steel, 66, is backed by House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy and the sheriffs of Los Angeles and Orange counties, Alex Villanueva and Don Barnes. Chen, 44, has support from House Democrats Ted Lieu and Judy Chu and state Attorney General Rob Bonta. Fundraising records for the period ending May 18 show that Steel had raised $4.1 million — nearly $1.8 million more than Chen.

About This Race

The new Congress member for the 45th District will represent one of the most racially-diverse and competitive districts in the country.

As a House Representative, they can offer bills and serve on committees to influence policy and laws. They also respond to constituents' concerns and are allowed to direct federal funds to projects back home.

This person will also lead a district, mostly located in north Orange County, during a time of political change. While Orange County has long served as a hub of conservatism, the last decade has seen more voters turning to the Democratic party. Indeed, voter registration in the 45th slightly favors the Democrats.

What's At Stake?

Aside from picking the best person to represent them on the national stage, voters in the 45th will also help determine whether House Democrats can fend off a challenge from Republicans and hold onto their slight majority.

The Candidates

How Local Primaries Work
  • If any one candidate receives more than 50% of the vote in the June primary, they will win the office outright. Otherwise, the two candidates who receive the most votes will advance to the November runoff.