Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a one-time speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan who later became Russia’s leading defender on Capitol Hill and an outspoken advocate for legalized marijuana, was defeated Saturday, a victim of California’s Democratic tilt and voters’ distaste for President Donald Trump.
Rohrabacher, 71, was beaten by real estate executive Harley Rouda, 56, a Republican-turned-Democrat who pilloried the congressman for his skepticism over climate change and depicted him as an out-of-touch abettor in Washington gridlock.
With votes continuing to be counted, Rouda’s edge grew steadily. The vote count updated Saturday showed Rouda with 52 percent of the vote and about 8,500 more votes than Rohrabacher.
Rohrabacher’s ouster from his seat in Orange County has historical and symbolic significance. The county southeast of Los Angeles was home to President Richard Nixon and long considered a foundational block in the modern conservative movement. Reagan himself likened it to a Republican heaven.
Orange County was once a Republican lock on Election Day, said Fred Smoller, associate professor of political science at Chapman University.
“Their lock is over,” he said.
With Rouda’s win, Democrats have picked off two GOP seats either all or partly in the county since Tuesday’s election, and are threatening in two others. Democrat Mike Levin this week captured the seat long held by retiring Rep. Darrell Issa, which cuts through the southern end of the county. Democrats have also seized a GOP-held seat north of Los Angeles.
Rouda credited his victory to support from “voters across the political spectrum.” In a statement, he said he intends to be “honest, transparent, accessible and tireless” in Washington.