In a first sign of consolidation among candidates bidding to unseat Rep. Dana Rohrabacher in the midterm election, Newport Beach resident and architect Laura Oatman this week suspended her campaign and endorsed one of her Democratic rivals, Harley Rouda, of Laguna Beach.
“Harley Rouda represents the best choice to flip the 48th District from red to blue,” Oatman said in a statement.
Republican voters hold an edge in the coastal district that spans Seal Beach to Laguna Beach. Its GOP incumbent is in his 15th term. In addition to a handful of Democratic hopefuls, Rohrabacher now also faces competition within his own party from Republican rival Scott Baugh, former GOP chair in Orange County.
“I am hoping all local activists, the majority of whom have been split between supporting myself or Harley, can now unite into one mighty force, and we can work together to get Dana out. I am calling on all six other Democratic candidates to do the same; this is not about any one of us. This is about all of us.”
Recent public polling from Fight Back CA, a California-based Democratic PAC dedicated to flipping GOP-held seats to blue, provides conflicting indicators over the impact of Oatman’s decision in defining who is the front-runner among Rohrabacher challengers.
Oatman ties with Rouda behind Rohrabacher in one Fight Back poll of 688 likely primary voters, which lacks candidate descriptions; in a poll that includes the descriptions, another rival, Hans Keirstead, comes in second behind the incumbent, just ahead of Baugh and Rouda.
Two other Democrats in the race who have surpassed Oatman in donor contributions are not ceding ground to Rouda.
“These polls show that Harley Rouda does not gain enough support to become the frontrunner and his efforts bring Democrats very close to getting locked out of the primary,” Keirstead campaign manager Kyle Quinn Quesada said in a statement. The stem cell scientist from Laguna Beach last month secured the endorsement of the state Democratic Party. This week, another Democratic opponent, Boyd Roberts, endorsed Keirstead, according to Quinn Quesada.
Omar Siddiqui, of Costa Mesa, also has no plans to heed Oatman’s unity plea, said campaign manager Luis Aleman. “We’re continuing the fight to June because we have the money and polling shows a path to victory,” Aleman said.
Republicans, too, now confront a race that divides loyalties, with both Baugh and Rohrabacher financially prepared for a fight.
“An intra-party challenge to an incumbent in good standing takes Republican dollars, donors and volunteers away from where our focus needs to be,” said Fred Whitaker, chair of the Republican Party of Orange County, which followed party protocol and endorsed Rohrabacher.
Prior to the filing deadline, Whitaker said he delivered to Baugh a letter signed by 30 party leaders asking him not to enter the race. “Yet, on Friday, he chose to take a path to the contrary,” Whitaker said.
Among the Democratic challengers, Oatman had backing from several progressive groups, including Democracy for America, Justice Democrats and Our Revolution.
Rouda last week added endorsements from Reps. Loretta Sanchez, Lou Correa and Alan Lowenthal. In a statement, he expressed gratitude for the decision by Oatman, who he described as a respected progressive and environmental leader.
If elected, he promised to champion her Envision America 2050 Plan, which aims to create good jobs and solve climate change.
New information was added to the online version of this article after the print deadline.