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GOP Rep. Denham falls behind Democrat as 3 other Republicans lose ground in Friday's ballot tally

GOP Rep. Denham falls behind Democrat as 3 other Republicans lose ground in Friday's ballot tally
Employees of the Orange County Registrar of Voters sort through mail-in ballots in Santa Ana. (Nick Agro / For The Times)

Republican Rep. Jeff Denham lost his lead over Democrat Josh Harder on Friday in one of California’s four unresolved congressional races as updated ballot counts showed the GOP in growing danger of losing as many as six House seats in the state.

GOP Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of Costa Mesa fell further behind Democrat Harley Rouda, who is now more than 7,300 votes ahead of the 15-term congressman.

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Another Republican Orange County incumbent, Rep. Mimi Walters, has seen her election-night lead of 6,233 votes drop to 2,020 in her race against Democrat Katie Porter.

The tabulation Friday was also alarming for Republican candidate Young Kim of Fullerton, whose election-night lead over Democrat Gil Cisneros has shrunk to 2,672 votes.

If historical voting patterns hold, Republicans will lose all four of those seats. Tens of thousands of votes have yet to be counted in each contest, analysts in both parties estimate, and the votes tallied latest in California nearly always skew Democratic. Denham fell Friday to 3,362 votes behind Harder.

Republicans now hold just 14 of California’s 53 seats in the House. They’ve already lost two of them in a midterm that gave Democrats control of the House as suburban voters rebuked President Trump and his GOP allies in Congress.

Rep. Steve Knight of Palmdale was ousted by Democrat Katie Hill in the 25th Congressional District on the northern outskirts of Los Angeles. In the 49th Congressional District along the coast of southern Orange and northern San Diego counties, Democrat Mike Levin, an environmental attorney, won the seat of retiring GOP Rep. Darrell Issa.

Orange County Registrar of Voters employees Barbara Strauss, left, and Hilda Rodriguez grab trays of mail-in ballots to sort through Wednesday at their facility in Santa Ana.
Orange County Registrar of Voters employees Barbara Strauss, left, and Hilda Rodriguez grab trays of mail-in ballots to sort through Wednesday at their facility in Santa Ana. (Nick Agro / For The Times)

Democrats are optimistic that the vote count will continue to go their way but cautious about declaring victory.

“I’m a skeptic, because I’ve been burned by this many times,” said Andrew Acosta, a Democratic strategist in Sacramento. “But the trend line doesn’t look good for these Republicans.”

If Democrats defeat Rohrabacher, Walters and Kim, it will be the first time since the 1930s that Orange County has no Republican in Congress.

Rouda declared victory Saturday morning, but Rohrabacher has not conceded.

“I am deeply humbled and honored to have the opportunity to serve in Congress,” Rouda said.

Republican voters still outnumber Democrats in Rohrabacher’s 48th Congressional District along the Orange County coast and Walters’ 45th around Irvine and Mission Viejo. But both districts — like the others the GOP is struggling to hold in California — favored Hillary Clinton over Trump in 2016.

Registered Democrats recently surpassed Republicans in the 39th Congressional District, where Kim and Cisneros are vying to represent a district that includes Fullerton, Yorba Linda and Hacienda Heights.

Democrats also dominate the 10th District in the Modesto area, where Denham’s relatively moderate profile helped him survive previous challenges.

Some Republicans agreed the trend was worrisome. Mike Madrid, a GOP strategist, wrote on Twitter: “drip....drip....drip....”

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The tabulation could take several more weeks. In Orange County, 365 employees, most of them seasonal, are working 12 hours a day, six days a week.

Ballots are first fed through machines that slice open the envelopes and sort them by precinct.

The election workers then gather in clusters of four and check ballots for what they call “love notes,” the sometimes profane comments voters scribble, or other stray markings that might mess up an accurate scan.

Those ballots are set aside and duplicated by hand while monitors dispatched by candidates closely observe the workers’ every move. In the end, all the ballots are fed into a scanner that records the results into a database.

Nov. 10, 10:05 a.m.: This article was updated with Harley Rouda declaring victory.

9:45 p.m.: This article was updated with Josh Harder’s vote margin over Rep. Jeff Denham.

7:35 p.m.: This article was updated to include background on four congressional districts.

6:55 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from political strategists Andrew Acosta and Mike Madrid and details on the Orange County ballot count.

This article was originally published at 6:15 p.m., Nov. 9

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