Harley Rouda, a Democratic candidate for the 48th Congressional District, says he’s “neck-and-neck” with the longtime incumbent, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, in terms of fundraising.
Rohrabacher, of Costa Mesa, who won re-election with 57 percent of the vote last November, reported a total of $222,501 in contributions as of March 30, according to Federal Election Commission disclosures filed Friday, April 14.
Rouda, a political newcomer from Laguna Beach who declared his intent to unseat Rohrabacher in March, is close on the incumbent’s heels with $214,758 in contributions, disclosure reports show. That includes a $55,000 contribution out of the candidate’s own pocket.
The 48th Congressional District, which spans Seal Beach to Laguna Beach, is one of 23 in the nation where voters split their votes in the last election, casting a bare 1.7 percent majority of their ballots for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, but re-electing the Republican in the House race. Thus, the 48th Congressional District is considered a ripe pickup opportunity and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is keeping on eye on the contest.
“They won’t make a pledge to anybody until after the primary,” said Rouda, who nevertheless already underwent a background check by the committee to unearth any potential fodder for opponents. “I came through with flying colors,” said Rouda, a lawyer and entrepreneur and native of Ohio.
Two other candidates are also positioning themselves in the 48th District. The former chair of the Orange County Republican Party, Scott Baugh, has $524,428 in cash on hand, an amount that is unchanged from the previous FEC filing. He has yet to declare his candidacy. Rouda believes Baugh readied the war chest for a special election, anticipating that Rohrabacher would receive a cabinet appointment in the Trump administration. Now, since that did not occur, “Scott would not oppose him,” Rouda predicted.
Another Laguna resident, Boyd Roberts, also set his sights on unseating Rohrabacher, declaring his candidacy in February. Roberts has yet to report receiving contributions.
Rouda said Rohrabacher hasn’t responded to his invitation to debate. “It’s been radio-silence, unfortunately, though predictable nonetheless,” his campaign strategist, Dave Jacobson, said. “If the incumbent has continuously failed to meet with his own constituents, it’s no surprise he’s scared to meet with his most formidable challenger to discuss the issues at hand.”
To be successful in ousting Rohrabacher, Rouda knows he needs to woo independents, coastal Republicans and some of the 250,000 unregistered, eligible voters in the district. “We need to do voter registration for 18 months,” he said, describing his campaign infrastructure during a recent get-together at the home of Jane and Joe Hanauer in Laguna Beach.
The upstart’s platform differs considerably from his opponent. Rouda believes in global warming, he’s supportive of women’s rights and minority rights and thinks the incumbent has returned little money back to the district.
Among the 20 or so people in attendance, filmmaker and environmental advocate Greg MacGillivray pointed out a vulnerability Rouda could exploit, noting that Rohrabacher surfs. “Surfing places all over the world will be destroyed,” said MacGillivray, due to rising sea levels. “That might be an issue.”
After Rouda described why he switched his political registration, Betsy Jenkins urged him to fold that into his message. “That’s an asset, telling that story,” she said.
While Rouda’s campaign has already picked up endorsements from some high-powered Democrats — Laguna Beach Mayor Toni Iseman, former California Attorney General Bill Lockyer and former Orange County Democratic Party Chair Frank Barbaro – he hopes to define his candidacy around his own beliefs rather than party ideology. “I don’t see a willingness of either party to come to the middle,” he said, noting that 56 percent of votes in congress followed party affiliation in 1980, while today 90 percent do. “I think we need to focus on the people, not the party,” Rouda said.