Blue Wave Stumbles in Key California Races

(CN) – Hopes of laying a foundation for strong Democratic opposition to President Trump stumbled in California on Tuesday, as several key races eyed for quelling the Republican stranglehold on Congress ended up remaining red.

In San Diego’s District 49, the “blue wave” pundits expected got off to a slow start as the first poll results trickled in the Republican stronghold which blankets the suburbs of north San Diego and south Orange Counties.

The race between Democratic environmental attorney Mike Levin and State Board of Equalization member Diane Harkey ended in a flipped district, with Levin claiming more than 12,000 more votes.

Congressional candidate Mike Levin and actress Alyssa Milano. (Bianca Bruno/CNS)

At his Election Night party, Levin called out the San Diego Registrar of Voters for not updating its figures in time to call the race, but said retiring Rep. Darrell Issa called him earlier in the evening to congratulate him.

“I am confident when all the votes are counted, we will have finally flipped the 49th District. Tonight, our country has rediscovered the Democratic Party and the Democratic Party has rediscovered our voice,” Levin said.

District 49 was predicted early on to lead the “blue wave” of California congressional districts flipping from red to blue after being carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016 despite being represented Republicans.

Issa announced his retirement this past spring after he won re-election in 2016 by the narrowest margin in the nation. He faced weekly “Resist Trump Tuesday” protests organized by District 49 constituents at his district office in the San Diego city of Vista.

Issa went on Fox News Tuesday and predicted Levin would win his seat, saying “California is leaning very hard to the left.”

Over 100 people gathered Tuesday morning to hold their 69th protest outside Issa’s office where, after two years of protesting their congressman’s support of President Donald Trump, organizers were joined by actress and activist Alyssa Milano in supporting Levin’s bid for Congress.

Barbara Amador, one of the organizers of the weekly protest dubbed a “Resista,” told Courthouse News Election Day “feels surreal” after working since December 2016 to replace Issa.

Nancy Wilson of Vista said she started a solo protest at Issa’s office five years ago after she tried to meet with the congressman to get help for her service member son, but Issa declined to help because Wilson is a Democrat.

“When he refused to stand up against Trump he became another representative of Trump,” Wilson said.

“Many people here may have supported him if he had changed his stance, but it became clear he was not interested in representing the people in his district. He’s a ‘Trumpster,’” she added.

Up Interstate 5 in downtown Modesto, hundreds of Josh Harder supporters gathered at Greens on 10th Street for an event celebrating his run for Republican incumbent Jeff Denham’s 10th Congressional District seat.

As the 8:15 p.m. start time drew near, a representative for the campaign came out and told the crowd many polling places had ran out of ballots and Harder staffers were trying to convince those undersupplied spots to remain open.

Julian Washten and his wife Lori waited to get inside Greens, discussing the midterms and propositions with fellow voters like Dennis Klenke from Salida.

“If you’re gonna build roads and repair them,” Julian said of Proposition 6, the bid to repeal the so-called gas tax, “you’re gonna need money to pay for it. So a few cents here and there while I’m pumping gas? I’m for it.”

Klenke agreed, but his thoughts turned to veteran care.

“Did you know we had the OK to build a veteran’s hospital right there in our district and Denham won’t get off his ass and secure the funding to do it?” he asked.

“He keeps talking about it,” said Lori.

“Talk is cheap,” said Klenke. “Our veterans have to go to the Bay Area for service when we have the okay to put one right here.”

Talk then turns to what Harder would do to make things better.

“Everybody says, well he won’t do anything, but how do we know that?” Klenke asks. “We know this guy (Denham) won’t do anything. It’s a fact. And, he supports someone who I do not support at all, and that’s our president.”

Inside Greens, Harder arrived with his wife and the crowd chanted “Har-Der, Har-Der” as he made his way to the stage.

Harder channeled some Obama energy, telling his supporters he was proud of them no matter the outcome.

“We knocked down 200,000 doors over the last three days,” he says, “And we have had over 100 times more volunteers this election.”

He told the crowd race won’t be called tonight, but said he feels “we’re painting a picture of a much brighter and better future.”

Down in Southern California, the future looks muddy for Democrat Harley Rouda. Just before 11 p.m. Rouda’s rival, Republican incumbent Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, spoke to his supporters and the press at a restaurant in his coastal district. Rohrabacher maintained a 27-vote lead against Rouda.

U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican. (Nathan Solis/CNS)

Rohrabacher, 71, has held his District 48 seat for nearly 30 years, riding into office in 1988. He spoke to the press and supporters after learning Democrats took the U.S. House of Representatives, but Republicans won a majority in the U.S. Senate.

“This is already a night with a mixed message,” said Rohrabacher. “It looks like it’s going to be a long night. I can’t say I’m pleased with the outcome in the rest of the country. However, that has to be balanced off that we’re going to be stronger in the United States Senate.”

Rouda, a lawyer and real estate developer, rustled up a close race to represent the historically conservative stronghold that includes Orange County. In the June primary, Rouda won second place by just 125 votes to face off against Rohrabacher.

Another close race took shape in District 25, but in the end Democratic candidate Katie Hill bested Republican incumbent Steve Knight, 51-49. Knight conceded Wednesday afternoon.

Hill, a former nonprofit provider for the homeless, had about 600 votes over Knight, a former police officer and Army veteran.

District 25 bridges northern Los Angeles County and a portion of Ventura County and shows signs of a shift from its conservative leanings due to demographic changes. Knight has called for immigration reform, which puts him out of step with the GOP’s main party line but in line with a more diverse voter base.

Just south of Los Angeles, Orange County voters turned out to have their voices heard.

School teacher Kris Mendoza waited in a line that stretched deep into the chapel at Danish Church in the Orange County city of Yorba Linda.

The church sits off the Richard Nixon Highway in the 39th District, where political newcomer and Democrat Gil Cisneros took on Young Kim, a Republican and former state assemblywoman, for a seat long held by retiring incumbent Ed Royce.

Mendoza wants a larger political shift in the county, a Republican stronghold for decades, that can challenge Trump’s agenda.

“Maybe that’s the push people needed to vote,” Mendoza said. “If you’re upset or disgruntled then do something about it.”

Francisco and Maria Soler of Yorba Linda supported Cisneros hoping he can bring more protections for immigrants who want to build a life here.

Cisneros lessened an 8-point Tuesday night margin but, with all precincts reporting, results show he fell short by less than 4,000 votes. The Associated Press reported Wednesday that Kim took 52 percent of the vote to Cisneros’ 48 percent in the district, which was picked up by Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.

A Cisneros campaign representative said Wednesday afternoon Cisneros has not conceded and will have more to say later in the day.

Outside Villa Park City Hall in the neighboring 45th District, Andrew Smith of Orange said he voted in favor of repealing the gas tax because he hasn’t seen any of the funds spent on the roads he uses. He hopes incumbent Mimi Walters, a Republican, can hold off a challenge by law professor Katie Porter, a Democrat who was endorsed by U.S Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.

Smith said his main disagreement with Porter is her support for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

“I work hard for my benefits and make sacrifices in my paycheck in order to have a choice in providers,” Smith said. “It’s not right for someone to decide what’s best for me.”

Walters voted multiple times to repeal Obamacare and to exclude coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.

Sue Pack of Villa Park said she voted with her health care coverage in mind.

A nurse and registered independent, Pack said she has a pre-existing condition and could lose coverage if the Affordable Care Act is repealed.

“If that happens, we’re screwed,” Pack said.

With all precincts reporting Wednesday, Walters nabbed 51 percent of votes compared to 48 percent for Porter, according to The Associated Press

Walters will now serve a third term in office and likely maintain her leadership position among House Republicans.

California’s gubernatorial race pitted an upstart pro-Trump Republican businessman from Illinois against a progressive Democrat promising to resist the president. It shaded blue just minutes after the polls closed.

Voters in the nation’s most populous state overwhelmingly selected Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, over Republican John Cox, 57-43. The former San Francisco mayor becomes the first Democrat to succeed a Democratic governor since 1887, furthering California’s seismic slide to the left.

Newsom said the nation’s biggest state made the “biggest statement” and that the “future belongs to California” in a victory speech creased with jabs at President Trump. Newsom, son of a retired state judge, frequently traded barbs with President Trump on Twitter during his campaign. 

“To those agents of anger determined to divide us instead of unite us, it’s time to pack it up and for you to pack it in,” Newsom said Tuesday night in Los Angeles.

Newsom’s governing outlook could hardly be brighter entering 2019: he inherits a burgeoning multibillion-dollar budget surplus and huge Democratic majorities in both the Assembly and state Senate. The previous two governors, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown, were saddled with deficits and wholesale dysfunction when they landed in Sacramento.

Bianca Bruno, Martin Macias Jr., Nathan Solis and Nick Cahill contributed to this report.

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