Welcome to “Meet a Competitive House Race,” a new Paste feature in which we highlight—you guessed it—a competitive 2018 House race from somewhere in America. Between now and election day, we’ll hopefully hit them all. You can see a full list of other House races we’ve profiled at the bottom of this page.
What’s the deal with today’s district? Where is it?
California 48, baby! The OC! Situated on the Pacific coast in southern in Orange County, the 48th district comprises Huntington Beach, Sunset Beach, Costa Mesa, Newport Beach, and lots of other places with “Beach” in the name.
Who the hell lives there? How do they vote?
Lots of rich white people who typically vote Republican, like they did in 2012 when they gave Romney their enthusiastic endorsement by a whopping 12-point margin. That all changed in 2016, though, when Hillary Clinton won the district by two points. So you probably get the picture—these may be Republican-leaning people, but they’re the rich kind from California, and Trump populism really isn’t their thing. You can see just from the Romney-Clinton shift exactly why this district is ripe for the picking.
Aside from the 60% white demographic, the district boasts 19.9% Hispanic population, and 17.5% Asian.
Is Trump going to screw the Republican?
Based on the information above, Paste rates this as “maybe to likely.”
Gimme some more background
This is one of the most prominent battlegrounds to emerge from the growing number of toss-up races. Multiple candidates have signed on to challenge incumbent Rep. Dana Rohrabacher from both sides of the aisle, but the state’s odd top-two primary system—two best candidates in the open primary meet in the general election, party be damned—could greatly impact the ballot as battles begin to brew within, and across, party lines. More on that later.
What’s up with the Republican(s)?
CA 48 is currently represented by longtime Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a career politician dating back to his days as a Special Assistant to President Reagan. In an era where many conservatives have deified the Reagan administration, Rohrabacher has spun his connection to Reagan into a Congressional tenure that’s now lasted nearly 30 years. He has towed the party line for quite some time with relatively no fear of losing his seat, but tides have been changing in recent years as he has aligned himself more closely with President Trump and the Kremlin. Rohrabacher has been heavily criticized for his close ties with Russian officials, some of whom were allegedly involved in the infamous Trump Tower meeting with Donald Trump Jr., and for his avowed support for Vladimir Putin. He defended Putin’s annexation of Crimea and pushed for the U.S. to align with Russian interests in Syria. He’s become so cozy with the Kremlin that the Russians have given him his own code name, identifying him as a clear asset within the U.S. government. Hopefully it’s better than his nickname over here: Putin’s favorite Congressman.
This is not great PR.
The Russia connections obviously brought down loads of criticism, and Rohrbacher’s response was fairly lame: “My constituents couldn’t care less about this … They are not concerned about Russia. They are concerned about the taxes on their home. They are concerned about illegal immigrants coming into their neighborhood and raping people.”
Yikes! Just from that last line, you can see how completely he’s gone to the Trump dark side.
While the district still skews red, the late addition of Scott Baugh to the race offers the conservative base within the district a less controversial option, aiding the potential for a splitting of the Republican in the June 5 primary. Baugh is well regarded within the district, and to date doesn’t have a Russian pet name. That’s at least one feather in his cap.
What’s up with the Democrat(s)?
The term “Blue Wave” has fewer tactile personifications than the litany of Democratic candidates seeking to unseat Rohrabacher. Attempting to capitalize off of the Hillary Clinton’s narrow victory in the district in 2016, eight left-leaners are vying for the chance to take down the longtime incumbent. Out of the group, three have emerged as favorites: Hand Kierstead, Harley Rouda and Omar Siddiqui. All have raised significant funds in campaign contributions and with Kierstead and Rouda garnering significant endorsements from California Dems, but the potential split of the vote could cause them all to miss making the ballot beyond the primary.
Harley Rouda is the only Democratic candidate to top Rohrabacher in campaign contributions and was endorsed by Rep. Pete Aguilar. He is not without some controversy, as he has been criticized for donating to John Kasich’s presidential campaign in 2016 in addition to campaign contributions to Republican congressmen totaling $9200 between 1993 and 2007. He defended his Democratic candidacy to The Orange County Register, saying that while he was raised in a Republican household, he has voted for the Democratic candidate in every presidential election since 2004. Rouda was also the first candidate to attack a fellow Dem in the race.
Hans Kierstand ranks second in fundraising, but was one of two Congressional candidates to receive the endorsement of the California Democratic Party. The prominent neuroscientist has a history of battling Washington, most notably serving as a Congressional advisor against President Bush’s ban on stem-cell research. His status as a Canadian immigrant has also allowed him to speak to the growing anti-immigrant sentiment within the nation, though he has been criticized for his lack of voting in previous primary elections.
Omar Siddiqui stands as a candidate that could have great impact or none at all. While he’s third in campaign funds, his totals are significantly behind the other candidates in that field. Categorizing himself as a “Reagan Democrat; Siddiqui has many views that fall in line with the Republican mindset, allowing him to promote himself as a moderate. That centered stance could ingratiate him to the Republican majority similarly to how Conor Lamb did in Pennsylvania, but the swell of progressive movement within the district could cause a more momentous push against Rohrabacher that would leave Siddiqui in the wake.
What do the polls say?
While it is still too early to deem any candidate a lock beyond the primary election on June 5, Rouda and Rohrabacher stand as the top two in funds raised, though Kierstead isn’t far behind and has the weight of the state’s Democratic Party behind him—for whatever that’s worth.
What’s weird about the district?
What makes this election even more difficult to predict is California’s top-two primary system, which allows for the top two vote receivers, regardless of party affiliation, to move on to the general election. It allows for the potential exclusion of one party as a whole if the vote is split between candidates in a way that none receive a high enough percentage of the overall vote. This is where things get concerning for the Dems. While Rohrabacher is expected to make it through the primary, if the Democratic vote is split too evenly, the possibility that the Dems will be shut out of the general election becomes greater. Until candidates drop out or a clear frontrunner emerges, it is a worry that will persist as the primary campaign begins its home stretch.
Give me a prediction
If the Democrats get their act together and make sure to have a candidate in the general election, Rohrbacher’s toast—there’s no way he won’t drop at least a half dozen more embarrassing quotes before election day, and his constituents aren’t having it.