Candidates and political action committees spent nearly $12.3 million before the June 5 state primary in the hotly contested congressional battleground of District 48, which spans the Orange County coast from Seal Beach to Laguna Niguel.
That amounts to about $71 for each of the 174,024 votes cast in the contest to unseat Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican from Costa Mesa, who proved the race’s top vote-getter.
The statistical race-day tie for the second spot eventually was broken three weeks later with a tally of late-arriving votes that favored business entrepreneur Harley Rouda, a Democrat from Laguna Beach. By at least one other measure, the contest’s second-highest vote getter came out on top.
Rouda proved the race’s biggest spender at $2.2 million, including a $1.3 million loan by the candidate himself, according to Federal Election Commission records for the period ending May 15. His campaign paid back a portion of the loan, but lists $600,000 in cash on hand and a $1.1 million debt.
The race’s second-largest spender was Rouda’s fiercest opponent and fellow local resident. Stem-cell researcher Hans Keirstead spent $1.7 million in his first-time bid for public office and lent his campaign $725,000. His campaign spent all but $202,047 and still owes $725,000, records show.
Rohrabacher, who easily outdistanced the upstart candidates by winning 30.3 percent of votes cast, spent $1.4 million on the campaign. He has $600,000 on hand to seed his campaign for the midterm election in November.
Fellow Republican Scott Baugh, the former chair of the county GOP, spent $1.2 million and ended the race with $1,200 in his treasury and a $15,000 debt, according to figures as of June 30.
The 16 candidates on the primary ballot cumulatatively spent $8.9 million, according to campaign disclosure reports.
Rouda was also the intended recipient of the biggest windfall of primary spending by a slew of outside interests seeking to influence the outcome of the District 48 race. Sixteen PACs plowed $3.4 million into the congressional primary race, most of it on opposition marketing, a measure of the intense interest in the district that Democrats hope to flip.
The biggest spender proved the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which late in the race informally endorsed Rouda and snubbed Keirstead, the candidate endorsed by the state Democratic Party. FEC records show the DCCC spending $1.7 million in opposition to Baugh and $114,000 in support of a less well-known Republican, John Gabbard.