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Orange County is ground zero for fundraising in California’s most contested races

Orange County Republican Reps. Darrell Issa, Mimi Walters, Ed Royce and Dana Rohrabacher.
(Los Angeles Times, Roll Call, Associated Press, Getty Images)

More than half of the money raised for the most contested House races in California is going to candidates in Orange County, another indication of its starring role in the Democratic effort to win back control of the House next year.

Democrats need to win at least a few of California’s Republican-held districts to secure the 24 seats the party needs. The once reliably Republican Orange County backed Democrat Hillary Clinton for president last year, and Democratic candidates have come out in droves to challenge Republican House incumbents there. Of the 80 or so challengers in California, 27 are running in Orange County.

A Los Angeles Times analysis of this year’s campaign finance filings found it is also where the cash is going to: About $15 million of the nearly $28.5 million raised this year for 13 key races went to candidates in just four Orange County districts: the 39th held by Rep. Ed Royce of Fullerton, the 45th held by Rep. Mimi Walters of Irvine, the 48th held by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of Costa Mesa and the 49th held by Rep. Darrell Issa of Vista.

That includes $1.3 million in unitemized donations (donations of less than $200, which candidates don’t have to give details about) and nearly $4.3 million in loans or contributions from the candidates to themselves.

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The huge loans some of the Orange County challengers have given themselves set these races apart. Ten Orange County Democratic challengers in two districts have loaned their campaigns a combined $3.7 million — almost all of the money loaned in all of the 13 key races.

It’s unusual for so many candidates to loan themselves large amounts so early in the race, and shows some are anticipating a tough battle.

In the 39th District, four Democrats challenging Royce have loaned themselves a combined $2.79 million, with $2 million coming from a single candidate — health insurance executive Andy Thorburn. Only one Democrat there hasn’t loaned himself money.

In the 48th District, six candidates, or half of the Democratic challengers to Rohrabacher, have loaned themselves a combined $806,488.

California could flip the House, and these 13 races will make the difference »

Though Orange County challengers are raising lots of money, in some cases more than the incumbents, most Orange County Republican incumbents are raising more than they did in their last campaigns. And they still hold a major cash advantage over their challengers.

Walters has raised twice what she had this far out from the 2016 election, and Issa has taken in more than five times the amount he had in the last election, when he nearly lost his seat. Rohrabacher, who has been known for his lackluster fundraising, has raised about $852,200 so far this year, more than double what he brought in at this point in the last campaign. Despite the large loans his opponents have given themselves, Royce leads the pack with $3.4 million in the bank.

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Another note: Donations are overwhelmingly coming from Californians both in Orange County and other key races. Of the $26 million in itemized donations to the 13 key races (the ones we get identifying information for), $16 million, or 61.5%, came from in the state.

Challengers to incumbents are getting the biggest percentage of their cash from inside California — 32 statewide got at least 75% of their cash from fellow Californians. Most of those donations are coming from Southern Californians, with millions coming from the Los Angeles and Orange County areas.

New candidates cast their in-state fundraising as an example of local support, but they often also don’t have the national connections needed to bring in donations from across the country.

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Times staff writers Christine Mai-Duc and Maloy Moore contributed to this report.

sarah.wire@latimes.com | Follow @sarahdwire on Twitter

Read more about the 55 members of California’s delegation at latimes.com/politics

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