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Republicans lose a fifth House seat in California as Democrat Katie Porter ousts Rep. Mimi Walters

Republicans lose a fifth House seat in California as Democrat Katie Porter ousts Rep. Mimi Walters
Democrat Katie Porter, left, has unseated GOP Rep. Mimi Walters in California's 45th Congressional District in Orange County, the Associated Press projected. (Chris Carlson / Associated Press)

In another blow to California Republicans reeling from defeats in the Nov. 6 election, Democrat Katie Porter has ousted GOP Rep. Mimi Walters in an upscale Orange County congressional district that was a longtime conservative bastion.

At the same time, the updated vote count Thursday by the Orange County registrar of voters had Democratic House candidate Gil Cisneros pulling 941 votes ahead of Republican Young Kim in an adjacent congressional district.

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(Priya Krishnakumar / Los Angeles Times)

The Associated Press projected Porter’s unseating of Walters in the 45th Congressional District contest after Orange County’s tally found that the two-term incumbent had dropped 6,203 votes behind her challenger.

It is the fifth House seat in California that Republicans lost in last week’s election. Democrats will control at least 44 of the state’s 53 seats in the House. It’s a new low point for a state GOP sorely damaged over the last two decades by the kind of hard-line immigration politics championed by President Trump.

In an essay Thursday in the Washington Examiner, former California GOP Chairman Shawn Steel bemoaned the party’s near-collapse, saying Republicans were “completely outmatched” in fundraising and grass-roots organizing.

“California Republicans, long in the wilderness, have now reached the point of desperation,” he wrote.

Porter, a UC Irvine law professor, joins a broad field of incoming House Democrats, many of them women, who capitalized on Trump’s unpopularity in suburbs with big populations of college-educated voters. The district includes Mission Viejo, Tustin, Irvine, Rancho Santa Margarita and Laguna Hills.

A single mother of three, Porter, 44, is a protege of liberal Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. She campaigned as a consumer attorney who had taken on big banks and would stand up to leaders of both parties.

She and her Democratic allies pounded Walters for backing Trump in her House votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act and pass a tax overhaul that raised income taxes for many of the district’s residents.

“As your representative,” Porter said after the Associated Press called the race, “I will work to bring accountability back to Washington — to fight to protect our healthcare, for a clean and safe environment for our communities, and for fair taxation so that everyone pays their fair share.”

Walters, 56, tried to win credit for tax cuts that were also in the Trump plan. But her overall support for Trump’s agenda in Congress was too heavy a burden to overcome.

Walters’ campaign spokesmen did not respond Thursday to requests for comment.

A former stockbroker, Walters served on the Laguna Niguel City Council and in the state Legislature before winning her House seat in 2014. She and her husband own a business that provided medical staffers to California prisons. She lives outside the district in Laguna Beach.

In a year when female voters turned strongly against Trump and his fellow Republicans in Congress, Walters touted her bill establishing rights for sexual assault survivors in federal criminal cases.

Also bounced from Congress last week were Republican Reps. Dana Rohrabacher of Costa Mesa, Steve Knight of Palmdale and Jeff Denham of Turlock in the San Joaquin Valley. Democrat Mike Levin won the seat of retiring GOP Rep. Darrell Issa of Vista.

While the last undecided race appears to be close, Cisneros, like other Democrats, has been gaining votes faster than his Republican opponent. With rare exceptions in California, the votes counted on election night favor Republicans and the ballots counted later, many of them provisional, skew Democratic.

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Times staff writer Maya Sweedler contributed to this report.

7:40 p.m.: The story was updated to add that the Walters campaign did not respond to requests for comment.

7:05 p.m.: The story was updated with comments from Katie Porter and Shawn Steel.

The story was originally published at 5:50 p.m.

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