Rouda Picks Up a Key Backer in Race for Congress

Harley Rouda at a recent candidate forum.
Harley Rouda at a recent candidate forum.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee threw its de facto support this week behind real estate entrepreneur Harley Rouda of Laguna Beach in the fiercely contested June 5 primary race for the 48th congressional district in coastal Orange County.

The decision should translate into additional staff and financial support for Rouda and comes as one poll shows a three-way, dead-heat for second place against the Republican incumbent, Dana Rohrabacher, of Costa Mesa.

Rohrabacher leads the poll with 30 percent of the vote, while Rouda is tied with fellow Democrat Hans Keirstead and GOP candidate Scott Baugh with 13 percent each. Another 18 percent of those sampled were undecided, the poll shows. Tulchin Research, based in San Francisco, surveyed 400 people by phone May 1-5 for the poll, which has a sampling error of 4.9 percent.

The midterm election in District 48, which voted for Hillary Clinton for president in 2016, is considered a toss up by the Cook Political Report and Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics. It’s attracted outside interests who hope to flip the reliably Republican district. GOP voter registration in the district of 40.7 percent exceeds that of Democrats by more than 10 percentage points, says an April 6 Secretary of State report. The county registrar sets no-party preference figures at 22.4 percent in CA-48, and countywide 30,000 new voters have registered since March.

The DCCC interest in CA-48 also reveals intraparty disagreement among Democrats.

Earlier this year, the state Democratic Party endorsed Keirstead, a stem cell scientist also from Laguna Beach. The first-time candidate was recruited early on by the DCCC and 314 Action, a nonprofit created to support science-oriented candidates, spokesman Ted Bordelon said.

While the DCCC generally stays out of primary contests, that stance has apparently shifted at the prospect of a Democrat getting locked out of some of the 10 House races in California where the top two vote-getters move on to the general election.

Just three Democrats among scores running in the California races have received the DCCC’s seal of approval.

In a statement, DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Luján, of New Mexico, said Rouda earned a spot in its Red to Blue program because his campaign surpassed goals for grassroots engagement, wooing high-profile endorsements from elected officials and fundraising.

He also received the support of the Sierra Club and two Democrats in the race, Laura Oatman and Michael Kotick, who dropped out but remain on the ballot. Rouda also received the endorsement of Indivisible OC 48, a grassroots group that held several well-attended forums in recent months where top Democrats in the race debated an array of topics.

For Rouda, DCCC support will translate into campaign assistance and likely draw support from donors and PACs on the sidelines, said a DCCC staff member.

Keirstead mailers also tout a slew of endorsements from elected officials and unions and emphasize the candidate’s platform using science to determine legislative solutions.

His campaign also released a poll this week, which shows different results than that of the DCCC poll.

In it, Keirstead comes in second place among likely voters behind the incumbent, squeezing out the two other strongest contenders, Baugh and Rouda, respectively.

His pollster, Change Research, based in Palo Alto, sampled 590 likely voters and uses software that corrects for bias, said Bordelon, whose 314 Action group funded the poll.

A different set of polling data comes from Baugh, the former chair of the OC Republican Party from Huntington Beach. He said his campaign’s polling data indicates Rohrabacher’s support is slipping. Though he declined to release his poll information, Baugh attributes some of the decline in the incumbent’s support to voters turned off by nine “hit pieces” issued by the Rohrabacher campaign in recent weeks that slam the GOP challenger as “the lobbyist money can buy.”

Baugh said he did work as a consultant in 2007 for a sober-living facility in Newport Beach and more recently for a Los Angeles developer.

Rohrabacher this week said he intended to introduce legislation to give cities the ability to ban sober-living homes. In an interview with the Daily Pilot, Costa Mesa Councilwoman Katrina Foley dismissed the bill as “dead on arrival” and said it “violates federal U.S. Supreme Court case law.”


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