Steel widens lead over Rouda in 48th congressional race

Rep. Harley Rouda (D-Laguna Beach) faces a tough reelection bid against Orange County Supervisor Chairwoman Michelle Steel. (Photos by Daniel Langhorne and Sara Hall)

Michelle Steel’s lead over Rep. Harley Rouda (D-Laguna Beach) widened Thursday night, signaling a possible Republican flip of the 48th Congressional District.

The Orange County Supervisor is ahead of Rouda by 4,774 votes. On Wednesday, Steel led by less than 2,900. More than 354,000 votes have been counted in this contest.

“These past 18 months have been filled with hard work, long days, & unexpected challenges at every turn,” Steel wrote in a Tweet on Tuesday night. “As we wait for the final outcome of this race, I can’t help but feel so lucky to have such a great team by my side, fighting with me.”

In 2018, Rouda made national headlines by defeating incumbent Dana Rohrabacher, flipping a congressional district that had been solidly red for decades. The Republican Party of Orange County has made unseating the Emerald Bay resident one of its top priorities in 2018.

Rouda was actually ahead of Steel in the first tranche of election returns on Tuesday night. However, that lead evaporated overnight as results streamed in.

“This is a campaign run by and for the people, and I could not be prouder of our grassroots movement,” Rouda said in a prepared statement. “We are confident that voters of California’s 48th district put country over party at the ballot box and voted for integrity and decency.”

Steel and her husband Shawn, a Republican National Committee Member, are fierce allies of President Donald Trump. The White House appointed Steel to serve on a national advisory commission on Asian American and Pacific Islander issues.

The Orange County Board of Supervisors handling of the COVID-19 outbreak has loomed large over the 48th congressional race. Rouda criticized Steel for failing to adopt a countywide mandate to wear masks in public places during the early months of the pandemic.

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