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Rep. Rohrabacher gets a small boost in his reelection bid, but race remains tight, poll shows

Rep. Rohrabacher gets a small boost in his reelection bid, but race remains tight, poll shows
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa), right, and his Democratic challenger, Harley Rouda, left, take part in a debate moderated by Rick Reiff in Santa Ana on Oct 15. (Sam Gangwer)

With just two weeks to go before the midterm election, Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher appears to have received a slight bump in his reelection bid, but the race remains tight, according to the latest poll in his coastal Orange County district.

The poll, released Tuesday by Monmouth University, shows Rohrabacher with support from 50% of likely voters in the 48th Congressional District and Democrat Harley Rouda not far behind with 48%. The survey is a reversal of fortune for Rouda, who held a 46% to 43% lead in Monmouth’s July poll. Both results were within the polls’ respective margins of error.

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Republican voters appear to have closed the enthusiasm gap against Democrats in the district at the same time that President Trump’s approval rating has ticked up.

“The winds in this race have started to blow a little more in the Republican’s favor,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth poll.

The 15-term incumbent faces the most competitive race of his career in a district where Republicans hold a 10-point voter-registration advantage. Initially, few election prognosticators considered the race a true toss-up, but surging enthusiasm on the left and Rohrabacher’s lackluster support among local GOP leaders prompted Democrats to make the district part of their plan to flip control of the House.

An even share of Democratic and Republican voters say they have high interest — about 85% — a shift from July, when GOP voters trailed on that point by double digits.

About 54% of voters approved of the job Trump is doing, a slight increase from the summer, and the share of voters favoring a GOP-controlled Congress inched up to 48%. More than four in five voters said they considered it “very important” to cast a ballot in the House race to register support or opposition to Trump.

Rohrabacher’s strongest support was among older voters and whites without college degrees.

Rouda has the support of nearly three in four likely voters younger than 50. But since July, he has lost ground among three key groups: independents, white college-educated voters and minority voters. The Democrat led among independents three months ago, but the latest survey shows them evenly split between the candidates. And although Rouda still leads 55% to 42% among nonwhite voters, Rohrabacher has cut his deficit with that group in half since July.

The final few weeks before an election are often marked by a “coming home” period during which voters’ views crystallize and, often, they return to partisan inclinations. Other factors could also be at play.

Unlike in other battleground districts, a third of likely voters told pollsters that immigration was the most important issue. About 46% said they trusted Rohrabacher more to handle the issue; 38% said they placed greater trust in Rouda.

The numbers suggest Rohrabacher, who has taken a hard line on immigration issues, has managed to turn voters’ attention to an issue that gives him an advantage. The district includes a significant contingent of Asian American voters, many of them Vietnamese refugees who have shown support for the congressman’s stances on immigration.

As the election neared and attack ads against Rouda increased, more voters said they held unfavorable views of the Democratic challenger — about 29%, up from 16% in July. The percentage of voters with no opinion on Rouda dropped from just over half in July to 35%.

Since the June primary, the Congressional Leadership Fund, a conservative SuperPAC with ties to House GOP leadership, has run more than $3.1 million in ads attacking Rouda’s business record and claiming he’d raise taxes.

The poll was conducted from Oct. 17 to 21 by telephone, using landlines and cellphones, and included 372 likely voters in the district. The margin of error is 5.1 percentage points in either direction.

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