State Democrats flip 2 House seats; oth­ers up in air

San Francisco Chronicle - - FROM THE COVER - By John Wil­der­muth John Wil­der­muth is a San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle staff writer. Email: jwil­der­muth@sfchron­i­cle.com Twit­ter: @jfwil­der­muth

Cal­i­for­nia Democrats picked up a pair of Repub­li­can-held con­gres­sional seats Wed­nes­day, adding to the party’s grow­ing ad­van­tage in the House.

Demo­crat Mike Levin, an en­vi­ron­men­tal at­tor­ney, won the seat in the 49th dis­trict, which strad­dles the bor­der be­tween Orange and San Diego coun­ties, de­feat­ing Repub­li­can Diane Harkey. The seat opened up when GOP Rep. Dar­rell Issa of Vista (San Diego County) re­tired.

In the north­ern reaches of Los An­ge­les County, Demo­crat Katie Hill beat GOP Rep. Steve Knight of Lan­caster, who was seek­ing his third term in Congress. Knight con­ceded the race.

“I en­tered this race to serve our com­mu­nity and bring our voice and pri­or­i­ties to Wash­ing­ton,” said Hill, a 31-year-old res­i­dent of Agua Dulce (Los An­ge­les County) who has never held pub­lic of­fice. “This is just the be­gin­ning.”

Late-ar­riv­ing bal­lots prob­a­bly will de­ter­mine the re­sults in two other dis­tricts that Democrats were try­ing to wrest from Repub­li­cans.

In the 48th dis­trict in Orange County, Demo­cratic busi­ness­man Har­ley Rouda held a 1,600-vote lead over 15-term GOP Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of Costa Mesa.

“We knew this would be a close race and we ex­pected we would have to en­dure Cal­i­for­nia’s ab­surdly long count­ing process,” said Dale Neuge­bauer, a spokesman for Rohrabacher. He es­ti­mated that there could be 80,000 or more bal­lots left to count.

In the Cen­tral Val­ley, GOP Rep. Jeff Den­ham of Tur­lock (Stanis­laus County) held a 1,300-vote lead over Demo­crat Josh Harder. Den­ham’s cam­paign es­ti­mated there were “tens of thou­sands” of votes re­main­ing to be counted.

“We’ve known from the be­gin­ning this wasn’t go­ing to be re­solved on elec­tion night,” said Ni­cole Nabulsi, a spokes­woman for Harder. “We are en­cour­aged by the re­sults so far and we will be watch­ing the re­sults closely in the days to come.”

It may be a while. In the June pri­mary, for ex­am­ple, it took three weeks be­fore Rouda was de­clared the win­ner of the sec­ond slot in his Novem­ber con­gres­sional elec­tion.

About 7.2 mil­lion votes were tal­lied by Wed­nes­day morn­ing, for a 36 per­cent statewide turnout. But mail bal­lots post­marked by elec­tion day and ar­riv­ing by Fri­day still will be counted, along with pro­vi­sional bal­lots and mail bal­lots turned in at polling places.

In all, an es­ti­mated 3 mil­lion or more bal­lots are still out there. A pair of statewide con­tests are also hang­ing in the bal­ance — for in­sur­ance com­mis­sioner, where Demo­crat Ri­cardo Lara was cling­ing to a small lead over in­de­pen­dent Steve Poizner, and su­per­in­ten­dent of pub­lic in­struc­tion, where Mar­shall Tuck was nar­rowly ahead of Tony Thur­mond.

Repub­li­cans have held on to one of the seven House seats in Cal­i­for­nia that Democrats were es­pe­cially hope­ful of grab­bing af­ter Hil­lary Clin­ton won in those dis­tricts in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. GOP Rep. David Val­adao of Han­ford (Kings County) was an easy win­ner over Demo­crat TJ Cox.

Two ad­di­tional races were too close to call Wed­nes­day. In Orange County, Repub­li­can Young Kim of Fuller­ton was lead­ing Demo­crat Gil Cis­neros, 51 per­cent to 49 per­cent, while GOP Rep. Mimi Wal­ters of Irvine had a 52 per­cent to 48 mar­gin over Demo­crat Katie Porter, a UC Irvine law pro­fes­sor.

Democrats may have im­proved on their per­for­mance by nom­i­nat­ing can­di­dates who bet­ter fit con­ser­va­tive-lean­ing dis­tricts, said Thad Kousser, a po­lit­i­cal science pro­fes­sor at UC San Diego. While Orange County is no longer the Repub­li­can strong­hold it once was, it’s still a GOP-friendly area that’s a tough sell for a pro­gres­sive like Porter.

“All the ex­cite­ment this year was around the most lib­eral can­di­dates, but in toss-up dis­tricts, hav­ing a can­di­date who sounded like peo­ple Repub­li­cans were fa­mil­iar with and com­fort­able vot­ing for made a dif­fer­ence,” Kousser said. “When Democrats ran can­di­dates like Levin and Rouda, busi­ness­men with ex­pe­ri­ence in pri­vate in­dus­try, they won.”

“When Democrats ran can­di­dates like (Mike) Levin and (Har­ley) Rouda, busi­ness­men with ex­pe­ri­ence in pri­vate in­dus­try, they won.” Thad Kousser, po­lit­i­cal science pro­fes­sor at UC San Diego

Damian Dovar­ganes / As­so­ci­ated Press

Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa) has served 15 terms in the House. He trails a Demo­crat in once-red Orange County.

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