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Rohrabacher Loss Marks End of an Era in Orange County

Longtime Republican congressman loses to Democrat Harley Rouda

GOP Rep. Dana Rohrabacher lost to Democrat Harley Rouda in California’s 48th District. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
GOP Rep. Dana Rohrabacher lost to Democrat Harley Rouda in California’s 48th District. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

After 30 years representing the longtime conservative bastion of Orange County, California, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher will not be returning to Congress next year. 

Democrat Harley Rouda led the 15-term Republican congressman by more than 8,500 votes in the 48th District, 52 percent to 48 percent, when The Associated Press called the race Saturday night. 

Rohrabacher has not conceded, with a campaign spokesman citing the need to wait until all votes were counted.

“There are still more than 300,000 ballots remaining to be tallied in Orange County. We have volunteer observers monitoring the count and will not be issuing a statement until that process is complete,” Rohrabacher spokesman Dale Neugebauer said.

The coastal Southern California district was one of seven in the state that backed Hillary Clinton in 2016 and were top Democratic targets this cycle. And it is emblematic of the types of districts that helped Democrats win their House majority.

Rohrabacher had won all but one of his previous races by double digits going back to 1988 — including a 17-point win two years ago — but the Democratic enthusiasm and strong voter distaste for President Donald Trump in the affluent, suburban seat appears to have been a liability for him this year. 

Besides being a strong defender of the president, Rohrabacher earned a reputation as a top ally of Russia and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Capitol Hill, gaining the nickname “Putin’s favorite congressman.” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a fellow California Republican, reportedly said in a 2016 recording that he believed Rohrabacher was being paid by Putin. (He later said it was a joke.)

Rouda, a real estate entrepreneur and a former Republican, outraised Rohrabacher — $7.4 million to $2.4 million through Oct. 17, the end of the pre-general reporting period. Rouda positioned himself as a moderate, but he also supports “Medicare for all” legislation and the $15 minimum wage. 

Democrats have already picked up retiring GOP Rep. Darrell Issa’s 49th District seat that includes a part of Orange County, where Democrat Mike Levin led Republican Diane Harkey by 9 points as of Sunday.

The races in two other districts that touch the county — the 39th and 45th — remain too close to call, with Republicans holding on to slim leads. 

Bridget Bowman contributed to this report. 

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