Democrats in California watch House votes in hope of flipping chamber

Democrats anxious to know if they can avoid being shut out in some closely watched House races faced a long night Tuesday.

In 10 congressional districts Democrats have targeted for November, GOP incumbents had comfortable leads in eight of them. And in two others where Republican incumbents retired, GOP challengers were running on top. But for Democrats, second place and a spot on the November ballot is all that really counts.

In many of those races, the runner-up spot would not be decided until early Wednesday morning, or even later in the week as the late ballots are counted. But as of late Tuesday night, Democrats were number two in all those targeted races.

The earliest results showed just how much of a dogfight it’s going to be in Orange County’s 48th District, where Democrats were in danger of not cracking the top two. It was GOP Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of Costa Mesa with 30.1 percent, followed by Democrat Hans Keirstead at 17.8 percent, Republican Scott Baugh at 17 percent and Democrat Harley Rouda at 15.7 percent.

The toughest number there was Rohrabacher’s, who barely surpassed 30 percent after 30 years in Congress.

Almost since Donald Trump was elected president in 2016, California has been key to the Democrats’ plan to take back control of the House. The seven Republican districts where Hillary Clinton beat Trump, most of them in Orange and Los Angeles counties, were expected to provide a big chunk of the 23 seats Democrats need to flip nationally.

That still could happen. In a primary where the two leading vote-getters, regardless of party, advance to the November general election, Democrats were looking like they could grab a top-two spot in all of the seven districts. In all those districts, however, thousands of late-arriving ballots remained to be counted.

“It’s looking OK for the Democrats right now, but there needs to be way more votes counted before anyone can make a prediction,” said Darry Sragow, a former Democratic strategist who now publishes the California Target Book, which provides nonpartisan analysis of California political races.

Republican retirements: In two other Orange County districts, left open by the hasty retirements of their GOP incumbents, it was a host of Republicans versus a host of Democrats.

In the 39th District, where 13-term GOP Rep. Ed Royce announced his retirement in January, former Republican Assemblywoman Young Kim was on top with 26 percent of the vote. Democrat Gil Cisneros was leading for the second spot in the fall race, with 16 percent, followed by Republican Phil Liberatore at 13 percent.

Farther south in the 49th District, which straddles the Orange and San Diego County line, Republican Diane Harkey led the race to replace retiring Rep. Darrell Issa with 25 percent in the early returns. Democrat Mike Levin was in second with 17 percent, followed closely by two other Democrats, Sara Jacobs at 15 percent and Doug Applegate at 13 percent.

2018 Primary Elections Video: San Francisco Chronicle

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