In theory, Democrats hoping to win back congressional control have two of their best shots in California, where two Republicans are retiring from racially diverse districts that have been trending against the GOP.
It’s actually a lot more complicated. There are 13 Democrats running to replace Reps. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton) and Darrell Issa (R-Vista) in the 39th and 49th congressional districts, and Democrats are panicked the top-two primary could prevent them from even making the November ballot. When Royce and Issa said they would head to the exits, that invited new candidacies from multiple Republicans, many with more experience than the Democratic contenders.
In a year when Democrats must flip 24 Republican House seats to reclaim the majority, every race counts. The California contests in Orange County and northern San Diego should be low-hanging fruit, since both districts chose Hillary Clinton for president in 2016. The crowded races and the top-two primary back the results far less certain.
Here's a quick look at the candidates who have filed to run in the June 5 primary in the 39th and 49th congressional districts and the descriptions that will appear after their names on the ballot, along with brief biographies of each compiled by The Times. The California Secretary of State's office must certify the candidates before they can appear on the ballot.
39th Congressional District
Nine Democrats, seven Republicans, two independents and two members of the American Independent Party have filed to run to replace Royce, a 13-term congressman who is chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The district is mostly in northeast Orange County but also straddles east Los Angeles County and San Bernardino and includes the cities of Fullerton, Diamond Bar and Yorba Linda. Phil Janowicz and Jay Chen, two Democrats who had previously announced campaigns, cited the concerns about the top-two system as they ended their candidacies.
Ted M. Alemayhu, American Independent Party, “Social Entrepreneur”
Alemayhu lists his occupation as founder of U.S. Doctors for Africa, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit whose mission is to increase access to medical care there. An immigrant from Ethiopia, Alemayhu lives in Los Angeles.
Sophia Alexander, American Independent Party, (ballot designation pending)
Alexander says she is a lifelong Democrat but is running under the American Independent Party to “troll” the ultra-conservative organization. Born in Denver and raised in Wichita, Kansas, Alexander is a Navy veteran and is transgender.
Gil Cisneros, Democrat, “Veterans Education Advocate”
Cisneros is a Navy veteran and worked as a shipping manager at Frito-Lay until he and his wife won a $266 million jackpot in 2010. The couple have been heavily involved in philanthropy, particularly in the areas of education and Latino youth.
Steve Cox, No Party Preference, (ballot designation pending)
A freelance photojournalist, Cox lives in Chino, just outside the district. A former Republican, Cox has been an independent for about 15 years and is a self-described “Berniecrat.”
John J. Cullum, Republican, “Business Owner/Accountant”
Cullum is an accountant and longtime resident of Placentia. He ran twice against former Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Orange), never advancing past the primary.
Bob Huff, Republican, “Small Business Owner”
A former state legislator, Huff served as the state Senate Republican leader from 2012-2015. He narrowly lost in the primary for a seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in 2016 and is now a policy consultant.
Sam Jammal, Democrat, “Civil Rights Attorney”
Jammal is a former congressional staffer and appointee in then-President Obama’s Commerce Department who most recently worked as legal counsel for Tesla. He also previously worked at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund after graduating from law school in 2007.
Young Kim, Republican, “Small Business Owner”
Kim, an immigrant from South Korea, is a former state assemblywoman who was ousted from her swing district by a Democrat in 2016. Kim dropped her bid for Orange County supervisor to run for Congress and has been endorsed by Royce (her former boss) to replace him.
Herbert H. Lee, Democrat, “Physician/Associate Professor”
Lee is a gastroenterologist and former UC Irvine Medical School professor. Born and raised in Taiwan, Lee now lives in Rowland Heights.
Suzi Park Leggett, Democrat, (ballot designation pending)
Leggett is the widow of Robert Leggett, a former Northern California congressman who retired in scandal in the 1970s. She owned and ran a deli in Costa Mesa until 2005.
Phil Liberatore, Republican, “Taxpayer Advocate/Businessman”
Liberatore is a certified public accountant who lives in Whittier, part of Rep. Linda Sanchez’s district. He ran for Congress in 2010 and 2012, never making it past the primary.
Camilla Kuo Liou, Democrat, “Businesswoman”
Liou is a former financial advisor who lives in Walnut. She has a bachelor’s degree in political science from UCLA and an MBA from the University of Chicago.
Shawn Nelson, Republican, “Orange County Supervisor”
An attorney by trade, Nelson is an Orange County supervisor and former mayor of Fullerton. About half of Nelson’s current district lies within the 39th District and he has the backing of neighboring GOP Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, locked in his own competitive race.
Ted Rusk, Democrat, “Business Owner”
Rusk owns a commercial construction company and lives in Cerritos. Born and raised in Indiana, he moved to California in 2001.
Andrew Sarega, Republican, “La Mirada City Councilman”
Sarega is a La Mirada City Councilman and a former Newport Beach police officer. He lives outside the 39th District and holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from CSU Fullerton.
Karen Lee Schatzle, No party preference, “Deputy District Attorney”
Schatzle is a prosecutor in Orange County and lives in Orange, outside the 39th. She ran and lost against an Orange County Superior Court judge in 2016, and later filed a $5 million claim against the county, saying she was denied promotions as retaliation.
Cybil Steed, Democrat, (ballot designation pending)
Steed is running under a pseudonym due to “privacy concerns.” Her legal name is Camille Hart and she’s a Los Angeles-based writer and wife of musician Mark Hart of Crowded House fame.
Andy Thorburn, Democrat, “Healthcare Educator/Entrepreneur”
Thorburn is a health insurance executive who lives in Villa Park, just outside the 39th District. Born in Brooklyn, Thorburn was a classroom teacher in the 1970s before entering the private sector.
Mai Khanh Tran, Democrat, “Doctor/Mother/Teacher”
Tran is a pediatrician with a private practice in Orange County. A Vietnamese refugee who came to the country as a young child, Tran lives in Yorba Linda and has the backing of Emily’s List.
Steven C. Vargas, Republican, “Councilman/Safety Specialist”
Vargas is a Brea city councilman and safety specialist at the El Segundo Refinery. A Navy veteran who is now an officer in the Navy Reserves, Vargas served a one-year deployment in Iraq.
On the Democrats’ side, Tran, Thorburn, Jammal and Cisneros have raised the most money while Republicans Huff, Kim and Nelson as current and former elected officials are well-known to local voters.
49th Congressional District
Four Democrats, eight Republicans, a Libertarian, an independent, a Peace & Freedom Party member and a Green Party member have filed to run in the district, which runs along the coast from Dana Point in Orange County to Solana Beach and Del Mar in San Diego County. Issa, who served nine terms, was barely reelected in 2016. His victory was the closest margin in the country.
Doug Applegate, Democrat, “Attorney/Father/Business-owner”
Applegate is an attorney and retired Marine Corps colonel. An early Bernie Sanders supporter in the 2016 election, he came just 1,621 votes short of defeating Issa in 2016.
Rocky Chavez, Republican, “Retired Marine Colonel”
Chavez was elected to the state Assembly in 2012 and represents more than 60% of voters in the 49th District. A retired Marine Corps colonel, Chavez is considered a moderate Republican and has been endorsed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Kristin Gaspar, Republican, “Supervisor/Small Businessowner”
Gaspar is a first-term Orange County supervisor and former Encinitas city councilwoman. She is the former CFO of a physical therapy practice that her husband owns and operates and has been endorsed by Royce.
Joshua L. Hancock, Libertarian, (ballot designation pending)
Hancock lives in Oceanside and works in nuclear security at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. Born and raised in Washington state, Hancock is a Marine Corps veteran and served with the Military Police at Camp Pendleton.
Diane L. Harkey, Republican, “Taxpayer Representative/Businesswoman”
Harkey is chair of the state Board of Equalization, an elected position that covers all of the constituents in the 49th District. A former state legislator, Harkey has Issa’s endorsement.
Sara Jacobs, Democrat, “Education Nonprofit Director”
Jacobs, 29, was most recently CEO of a nonprofit focused on global internet connectivity and was an unpaid staff policy advisor for the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign in 2016. The granddaughter of Qualcomm founder Irwin Jacobs, she would be the youngest-ever female member of Congress if elected.
Paul Kerr, Democrat, “Small Business Owner”
Kerr is a real estate investor and U.S. Navy veteran from Rancho Santa Fe. Born in Baltimore, he has a degree in economics from San Diego State University.
Mike Levin, Democrat, “Clean Energy Advocate”
Levin most recently managed government affairs for a fuel cell company and was founder of a nonprofit focused on bringing clean technology to Orange County. Levin is also an attorney and served on the national finance committee for the Clinton presidential campaign in 2016.
Brian Maryott, Republican, “Mayor Pro Tem”
Maryott is a certified financial planner and a San Juan Capistrano city councilman. He is a former regional executive for Wells Fargo.
David Medway, Republican, “Physician/Business Owner”
Medway is a physician and weight-loss consultant from Carlsbad. He has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from UCLA and graduated from medical school at George Washington University.
Jordan P. Mills, Peace & Freedom, “Professor”
Mills is a professor in communications and social science at Southwestern University in Chula Vista. A self-proclaimed socialist, he lives in Carlsbad.
Craig Nordal, Republican, “Real Estate Businessman”
Nordal owns a real estate appraisal firm and lives in Encinitas. A supporter of President Trump, he says he would seek to be part of the congressional tea party and Freedom Caucus if elected.
Robert Pendleton, No Party Preference, “Surgeon/Biochemist/Businessman”
Mike Schmitt, Republican, “Neuroaudiologist/Small Businessman”
Schmitt is a healthcare provider who helps treat auditory nervous system disorders. Born and raised in the San Gabriel Valley, Schmitt recently moved to Dana Point.
Joshua Schoonover, Republican, “Patent Attorney”
Schoonover is a patent attorney with a practice in Carlsbad. Born in Long Beach and raised in Riverside County, Schoonover has been in the San Diego area since college.
Danielle St. John, Green, “Mother/Activist/Advocate”
St. John is a stay-at-home mom and activist. A lifelong Democrat, she was a Bernie Sanders supporter who switched to the Green Party because of her anger over the 2016 presidential primary.