LOS ANGELES — Early returns Tuesday showed a string of close contests in California for Republican-held U.S. House seats.
Democrats, who hold a 39-14 advantage in California’s congressional delegation, are trying to take control of seven GOP districts in the state carried by Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.
The California battlegrounds range from Central Valley farmland to legendary surfing spots in Orange County and horse country north of Los Angeles. A torrent of money has flooded districts, with outside groups dumping over $10 million into several contests.
In play are long-term political trends that have seen the state grow more diverse in population and Democratic in its politics. The party controls every statewide office, both chambers of the Legislature and counts a 3.7 million edge in voter registrations.
THE BATTLE FOR ORANGE COUNTY
There was a time when talk of Democratic candidates seriously competing for House seats in the heart of Orange County would have been taken as a joke. After all, the county was once home to Richard Nixon and considered conservative holy ground.
But demographics have shifted along with the county’s politics, and two seats being vacated by retiring Republican Reps. Darrell Issa and Ed Royce gave Democrats an opening.
In Royce’s 39th District, Republican Young Kim is hoping to become the first Korean-American immigrant woman elected to the House. The former state legislator worked for Royce for years and has positioned herself as a Trump supporter with an independent streak.
Democrat Gil Cisneros, a first-time candidate, says voters are eager for change in a district about equally divided between Democrats, Republicans and independents. The Navy veteran who helped bankroll his campaign with the $266 million lottery jackpot he won is looking for a big turnout from Hispanics who make up about a third of the population.
Early returns showed Kim with a 10-point edge with 74,000 ballots counted.
In Issa’s closely divided 49th District, Diane Harkey, who sits on a state tax board, is looking to replace her fellow Republican and has been endorsed by the president. But environmental attorney Mike Levin has been attempting to turn that endorsement against her in a state where Trump is unpopular.
Levin had an early edge after 110,000 votes were counted.
Republicans are fighting to defend two vulnerable incumbents in Orange County, Reps. Mimi Walters and Dana Rohrabacher.
Both were easily re-elected just two years ago. But they are closely tied with Trump, who is unpopular in California, and represent politically moderate districts that have been growing more Democratic.
In the 45th District, which has a 7-point GOP registration edge, Walters is facing law professor Katie Porter, a protege of Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren. She has campaigned on overturning Trump’s tax reform package and her support for universal health care.
Walters had a narrow lead with 107,000 votes counted.
Rohrabacher, known as Russia’s leading defender on Capitol Hill, is matched against Republican-turned-Democrat Harley Rouda in the 48th District where the GOP has a 10-point registration edge.
Rouda, a real estate executive, has depicted the 15-term congressman as the face of Washington gridlock and has been critical of Rohrabacher’s skepticism about global warming.
Rohrabacher was first elected three decades ago as a Reagan Republican, but he’s been campaigning as a maverick willing to defy both parties.
The two were separated by about 250 votes with 107,000 votes tabulated.