Democrat Ted Lieu’s congressional district sprawls across the Los Angeles coastline, from Malibu to Palos Verdes. On Tuesday, he ventured to coastal Orange County onto the turf of Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher.
There, an estimated 800 people sprang to their feet when Lieu entered the Aliso Niguel High School gym in Aliso Viejo for a town hall meeting absent their elected representative.
“He spoke from his heart and electrified the crowd,” said Joseph Baechtold, a retired marine from Laguna Beach who participated in the meeting. He said he spotted two people wearing Trump gear, but there were no disruptions to the 45-minute long question and answer session.
Lieu fielded questions on women’s health, climate change and the Russian investigation alongside six other local activists, expert in topics ranging from immigrant rights to voter registration. “All in all, it was a fantastic event,” said Baechtold, who expressed frustration that his calls and requests to Rohrabacher for an in-person town hall meeting have been ignored.
Lieu, vice chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, served as the substitute focal point as Rohrabacher declined to attend. Eight of 10 candidates seeking to unseat the incumbent took advantage of the opportunity to hand out literature and greet potential voters.
“It’s part of his job to keep our base energized,” said Lieu spokesman Marc Cevasco. Lieu’s task is to help elect Democrats to congress from western states from Alaska to California. “All of the districts in play in the region come under his purview,” he said.
Rohrabacher, 70, of Costa Mesa, was re-elected to his 13th term in 2016 though a majority of voters in the 48th District, which spans Huntington Beach to Laguna Beach, cast ballots for the Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton.
Very similar voting patterns played out in neighboring Orange County districts where fellow GOP representatives Mimi Walters, Ed Royce and Darrell Issa won re-election even as anti-Trump sentiment showed up in results at the top of the 2016 ticket.
They, like Rohrabacher, also confront a robust slate of challengers in 2018. To take advantage of shifting political sentiments in the four congressional districts, the DCCC in July opened its first ever office in Orange County, spokesman Andrew Godinich said. Typically, the DCCC provides financial support to leading candidates, but closer to the election.
The district that re-elected Rohrabacher last November by a 16 percent margin of votes cast is now considered a toss-up, according to a July 26 ranking by the University of Virginia Center for Politics.
“It’s the first time he’s going to have to fight a real campaign,” said Sara Lowell, also of Laguna Beach, who helped organize the Aliso Viejo town hall. “He’s been lucky in a safe district.”
Political activists involved with Indivisible 48, which Lowell says has 2,400 supporters, made every effort to invite the incumbent, even personally delivering a petition signed by 1,000 constituents last Wednesday, July 26. She personally invited Rohrabacher to attend when their paths crossed at a bookstore in Fashion Island late in June. “We really wanted him to show up,” she said. “The only time you have an opportunity to speak with him is if you attend a $2,700 a person fundraiser.”
Lowell said Rohrabacher dismissed Indivisible as “populated by fascists.” He and other elected officials hold telephonic town hall meetings. Rohrabacher’s staff says elderly constituents have a better chance of participating than those held in-person.
“Even congress people who are supporters of the current administration hold town hall meetings,” Lowell said. “At least they’re brave enough to do that and understand their duty to constituents.”
Rep. Linda Sanchez, a Democrat from Whittier, was to host a town hall Thursday in Royce’s district at the Fullerton Community Center.