Rohrabacher heads to general election for his congressional seat, but who will challenge him is still up in the air

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa) addresses supporters at his election night party in Costa Mesa as results from Tuesday’s primary rolled in. Rohrabacher advanced to the general election in November.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

In the most closely watched local race of Tuesday’s primary election, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa) clinched a spot in the November general election as he led a hefty field of challengers trying to oust him from his 48th Congressional District seat. But with more than 181,000 ballots left to count around Orange County, it’s still unclear who will take on the 15-term incumbent in the fall.

The race for the second spot on the November ballot is very close, with Hans Keirstead edging in front of fellow Laguna Beach Democrat Harley Rouda in revised vote totals late Wednesday afternoon. Rouda had been narrowly ahead of Keirstead.

Rohrabacher had 30% of the votes with all precincts reporting, and after the revision, Keirstead was 45 votes ahead of Rouda (both at 17%). Republican Scott Baugh was behind them at 16%. Previously, Rouda had a 73-vote lead on Keirstead.

The county registrar of voters office said Wednesday that voters likely will have to wait until at least mid-June before the results are official.

Under California’s “jungle” primary system, the top two vote-getters advance to the fall general election, regardless of their party affiliation.

Registrar officials cautioned that with a large number of ballots left to count, it’s too early to make a definitive call on who will advance.

Officials still have to process 50,000 mail-in ballots, 82,220 vote-by-mail ballots dropped off at polling places, 45,500 provisional ballots and 3,590 election day paper ballots, according to the registrar’s office.

An estimate of the number of vote-by-mail ballots received after election day was unavailable.

Rohrabacher’s seat has been in the Democratic Party’s crosshairs throughout this election cycle, particularly since Hillary Clinton narrowly won the 48th District in the 2016 presidential election.

Rohrabacher said Tuesday night that his showing in the primary proves the Democrats’ hoped-for “blue wave” didn’t hit. “How many times do we have to hear there is a ‘blue wave’?” he said. “The tide is turning against these left-wing fanatics.”

He added that the primary returns were “not a victory for me; this was a victory for America.”

Rouda had a different view Wednesday.

He said in a statement that voters “sent a truly resounding statement that they’re ready to say goodbye to divisive and hateful politics of our failed incumbent congressman and [President] Donald Trump.”

“We have truly built a movement for change here in the 48th Congressional District, and I look forward to defeating Dana Rohrabacher and restoring honesty and integrity to this office,” he said.

Keirstead said on his campaign Facebook page Wednesday that “we still need to make sure every lawful vote is counted ... but here’s what we know so far: Dana Rohrabacher is on the ropes, he’ll finally be held accountable for decades of failed leadership [and] this is thanks to you, the activists who are working tirelessly to flip the 48th.”

Baugh said Wednesday that he plans to cast his ballot for Rohrabacher in November and hopes the rest of the 48th District will join him.

“Looking ahead, it’s vital to prevent the Democrats from taking the House,” he said.

In the California governor’s race, state Assemblyman Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach) ran fourth, with 10% of the vote, as Democrat Gavin Newsom, the lieutenant governor, and Republican John Cox, a businessman whom Trump endorsed, advanced to the general election. Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa, a former Los Angeles mayor, was third.

In the race to replace Allen in the 72nd Assembly District, Democrat Josh Lowenthal, a conference call company executive from Huntington Beach (37%), and Republican Tyler Diep, the Westminster vice mayor (30%), had a clear advantage over Republican Greg Haskin (20%).

Meanwhile, Assemblyman Matthew Harper, another Huntington Beach Republican, and Democrat Cottie Petrie-Norris of Laguna Beach advanced to the general election for Harper’s 74th Assembly District seat. Harper collected 41% of the vote; Petrie-Norris 28%. Democrat Karina Onofre, whom Harper defeated in the 2016 general election, was third, just ahead of Republican Katherine Daigle.

Rohrabacher is facing a major political fight to secure a 16th term in Congress.

Fifteen hopefuls threw their hats in the ring to try to replace Rohrabacher as the representative of the 48th District, which includes Costa Mesa, Fountain Valley, Huntington Beach, Laguna Beach and Newport Beach.

Four of those candidates — Democrats Michael Kotick, Laura Oatman and Rachel Payne and Republican Stelian Onufrei — dropped out of the race, though their names still appeared on the ballot.

Of the 11 challengers remaining, five were Democrats: Rouda, an attorney and businessman; Keirstead, a scientist and stem cell researcher; Deanie Schaarsmith, a Laguna Niguel resident who owns a DUI counseling program; Omar Siddiqui, a Costa Mesa trial lawyer who also has served as an advisor to the FBI and CIA; and Tony Zarkades, a Marine Corps veteran and commercial pilot from Huntington Beach.

The race received an extra jolt of intrigue with the entry of Republican heavyweight Baugh of Huntington Beach, a former state assemblyman who chaired the Orange County Republican Party for more than a decade.

Also on the ballot Tuesday for voters in Costa Mesa, Fountain Valley, Huntington Beach and Newport Beach was a decision on whom to elect to the Orange County Board of Supervisors.

Supervisor Michelle Steel, a Republican who lives in Surfside, won 63% of the votes in her bid for another term as the representative of the Second District on the five-member panel. That was enough to avoid a November runoff against Democrat Brendon Perkins of Huntington Beach, who finished second with 24%, or Michael Mahony of Cypress, who was third with 13%.

The choice was simpler in the Fifth District, which includes Laguna Beach, as incumbent Lisa Bartlett ran unopposed.

Staff writer Luke Money, Times Community News contributor Daniel Langhorne and the Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.

Twitter: @HannahFryTCN


5:10 p.m.: This article was updated with new vote tallies for .

2:45 p.m.: This article was updated with Scott Baugh’s comments.

This article was originally published at 12:40 p.m.