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Why Everyone In the Country Was Watching the Congressional Races In Orange County

[dropcap size=big]M[/dropcap]ore than a third of the primary election ballots remain to be counted in Orange County, but one thing is clear: It's going to be a Democrat-versus-Republican death match in the 39th, 45th, 48th, and 49th Congressional District, the races that national Democratic leaders say must be won to get the House back from Republicans in November.

These are the districts that the national media spent un chingo of time arguing whether they reflect the "new Orange County", the one that voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and is majority-minority. If you believe them, the Dems have the Republicans running scurred and will most likely win in the general election, ushering in the downfall of Trump.

But the outsider press corps doesn't know the bigger stories behind each district and candidate. And as it stands, the GOP will probably easily win the Big Four races, making talk of a blue wave taking over OC premature (just as I predicted).

Image via Young Kim for Congress.
Image via Young Kim for Congress.

39th District

[dropcap size=big]T[/dropcap]his seems like the closest race between the Big Four. Republican Young Kim came out on top with 25.5 percent of the vote, just 8 percentage votes ahead of Democrat Gil Cisneros. The North Orange County district roughly falls in the 65th State Assembly District, where former mayor (and badass Chicana) Sharon Quirk-Silva should easily win in November.

But the 39th also covers a lot of the 29th State Senate District, which just saw Democrat Josh Newman recalled decisively despite a massive push by local liberals to save him. And if you take the top 5 finishers for each party, Republican candidates s got 55.3 percent of the vote, while Dems only got 39.6 percent of the vote.

Kim is a party favorite, having worked for outgoing Congressman Ed Royce for years and holding the 65th Assembly District from 2014 (when she beat Quirk-Silva) until Quirk-Silva beat her in 2016. Cisneros, meanwhile, is a self-funded millionaire with nowhere near the name recognition of Kim, who can count on her familiarity with general voters and a big, conservative Korean evangelical community in Fullerton, Buena Park, and Chino Hills to take her over the top.

Image via Katie Porter for Congress.
Image via Katie Porter for Congress.

45th District

[dropcap size=big]L[/dropcap]ast week, Mother Jones ran a preposterous story about Democratic candidate Katie Porter that described Orange County as “the land of Ronald Reagan and Billy Graham” (we had more than our fair share of evangelical titans that the author could've used to make his point, bruh). “Elizabeth Warren’s Protégée Is Running for Congress in Orange County — and Might Actually Win,” the clickbait-y headline read.

Yeah, no.

Incumbent Mimi Walters was the only candidate of the Big Four races to top 50 percent. She had never inspired much hate or controversy in her long career, even though she's as wackjob of a conservative as Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (more on him in a bit) and the rest.

Porter can count on liberal voters in Irvine and Laguna Woods, but won't get the conservatives in the wealthy cities and areas of Anaheim Hills, Orange, Laguna Hills, and the unincorporated areas around Tustin. And expected visits by Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren won't impress many voters in the 45th, who are far more motivated by the threat of homeless people invading their suburban bliss to vote for Walters over Porter's progressive agenda.

RELATED: Los Angeles Is Asleep at the Polls ~ Five Scary Truths we Learned After California's Primary Election

Dana Rohrabacher in 2011/Image via Wiki Commons.
Dana Rohrabacher in 2011/Image via Wiki Commons.

48th District

[dropcap size=big]H[/dropcap]ome to a real-life Moby Dick in Dana Rohrabacher, who campaigned for term limits ... 30 years ago. His ardent love of Trump and Putin have earned him national coverage and antagonized local Democrats. And Rohrabacher's main base is Huntington Beach, the Fontucky of Orange County and the last fortress for the type of working-class white voter who favored Trump.

But things look bad for Rohrabacher. The top-5 Republican candidates in the primary got 52.7 percent of the vote, while Dems got 43 percent, the closest margin of the Big Four races. But while all the Democrats will unite behind whoever is their eventual winner (Harley Rouda led the morning after Election Day, but Hans Keirstead is in the lead as of this story's publication), Rohrabacher has no such guarantee.

His main Republican opponent was former GOP head Scott Baugh, who blasted Rohrabacher throughout the race to the point where current OC GOP chair Fred Whitaker had to get involved. Baugh and Rohrabacher have a contentious history: Rohrabacher's wife, the former Rhonda Carmony, pleaded guilty to two felony charges in 1997 for her role in a scheme to help Baugh — a former Rohrabacher protege — win a state assembly seat. While Baugh would never run with the Dems and doesn't have enough of a following to command his supporters to sit out the election, expect Rohrabacher to campaign for the first time in his career.

And while Rouda and Keirstead are self-funded millionaires who will benefit from national Democratic Party money, expect the marijuana industry — who calls Dana “Weed Jesus” for his long support of cannabis—to pour millions in the effort to save their man.

49th District

Seems like another GOP shoo-in; although Diane Harkey only got 32.3 percent to second-place finisher Mike Levin's 19.4 The top 5 Republicans got 54.3, while the Democrats got 42 percent. Harkey has name recognition in South County, with stints as a Dana Point councilwoman and State Assemblywoman, and currently sits on the California Board of Equalization; Levin has only a video of him confronting outgoing Congressman Darrell Issa in a town hall in 2017. Add in the district's relatively older voter base and Camp Pendleton, and it looks like Levin has an uphill battle.

But ... this is the district that Issa barely won in 2016, a margin so thin that he announced he wouldn't seek reelection this  year. Levin will have the full force of local and national Democrats behind him because of that. And Harkey will be hounded by ads against her...husband. Dan Harkey got dinged with a $10 million verdict against him in 2013 for acting with “malice, oppression or fraud” in bilking investors out of fortunes. And while Diane wasn't part of the settlement, people whom say Dan defrauded them have hounded Diane for years.

Stay tuned!

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