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Rouda inches ahead of fellow Democrat Keirstead in race to face Rohrabacher for congressional seat; votes are still being counted

Rouda inches ahead of fellow Democrat Keirstead in race to face Rohrabacher for congressional seat; votes are still being counted
Harley Rouda of Laguna Beach, a Democratic candidate for the 48th Congressional District seat, has a slight lead in the race for a spot in the November general election against incumbent Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa). (File Photo / AP)

Harley Rouda moved closer this week to clinching a spot in the November election for the 48th Congressional District seat against 15-term incumbent Dana Rohrabacher as he inched ahead of fellow Laguna Beach Democrat Hans Keirstead as votes continue to be counted from the June 5 primary.

In the most closely watched local race of the primary election, Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa) handily secured a spot in the fall face-off with 30% of the votes.

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Under California’s “jungle” primary system, the top two vote-getters advance to the general election, regardless of their party affiliation.

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In early primary returns, Rouda was narrowly ahead of Keirstead, but Keirstead leapfrogged him and led for most of the past two weeks. Both candidates have earned roughly 17% of the votes.

But on Monday evening, Rouda edged in front by 40 votes. The lead grew to 69 votes by Tuesday evening, with 26,773 ballots left to count throughout Orange County, according to the county registrar of voters office.

Rouda’s campaign expressed optimism Wednesday about the latest returns but stopped short of declaring victory.

“We look forward to continue watching the results until they’re certified … so that immediately thereafter we can focus like a laser on stopping the toxic Trump-Rohrabacher machine,” said Dave Jacobson, Rouda’s campaign consultant.

Registrar officials said they expect to work steadily to certify the election Monday.

Officials still have to process 883 mail-in ballots, 24,789 provisional ballots, 554 vote-by-mail ballots dropped off at polling places, 522 conditional voter ballots and 25 election-day paper ballots, according to the registrar’s office.

Keirstead’s campaign could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but he wrote on his Facebook page Monday that the “counting continues, and this remains a tight race for second place.”

“Whatever happens, we know there will be a Democrat on the ballot in November, and that’s good news for CA48,” he wrote.

Rohrabacher’s seat has been in the Democratic Party’s crosshairs throughout this election cycle, particularly since Hillary Clinton narrowly won the 48th District in the 2016 presidential election.

Fifteen hopefuls — eight of them Democrats — originally threw their hats in the ring to try to replace Rohrabacher as the representative of the district — which includes Costa Mesa, Fountain Valley, Huntington Beach, Laguna Beach and Newport Beach — though four candidates later dropped out.

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