POLITICS
06/06/2018 10:04 am ET Updated Jun 06, 2018

California Primary Results: Democrats Appear To Dodge Lockouts

All for the low, low price of $8 million.

Democrats will likely make the general election ballot in each of California’s potentially competitive congressional districts, according to the latest results on Wednesday, avoiding what could have been an electoral disaster for the party.

A Democratic candidate was safely in second place in three Orange County-based districts where the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and other groups had spent nearly $8 million to prevent only Republicans from advancing to the general election in California’s top-two primary system.

As part of the national Democratic push to win a House majority, party officials have focused on picking up several Republican-held seats in California. Getting shut out on the general election ballot in some key districts would have diminished those hopes.

In the 39th Congressional District, businessman Gil Cisneros, the DCCC-endorsed candidate, was in second place behind Republican Assemblywoman Young Kim for an open seat. GOP businessman Phil Liberatore, who stressed his support for President Donald Trump, was 5,000 votes behind Cisneros, according to an Associated Press tally.

Things looked even safer in the 48th District, where DCCC-endorsed Harley Rouda was in second place, with another Democrat, stem cell researcher Hans Keirstead, just 73 votes behind him. Both men were more than 1,000 votes ahead of former Orange County GOP Chairman Scott Baugh. Whoever finishes second will challenge GOP Rep. Dana Rohrabacher in November. 

Rouda declared victory in a statement on Tuesday night, even though the Associated Press has yet to call the race. 

“I know that all of us who are dedicated to defeating Dana Rohrabacher in the fall will unite together to beat him in November,” Rouda said.

And in the 49th District, previously held by retiring Republican Darrell Issa, GOP state tax board member Diane Harkey was winning 25 percent of the vote, with Democrats ― environmental lawyer Mike Levin, former Hillary Clinton campaign aide Sara Jacobs and retired Marine Col. Doug Applegate ― occupying the next three slots.

In the primary campaign, Democratic groups focused on drawing GOP votes in the district away from Assemblyman Rocky Chavez, attacking him for supporting Democrat Gov. Jerry Brown’s budgets and cap-and-trade policy. The plan worked ― Chavez was earning 8 percent of the vote, third among Republicans. 

The biggest remaining concern for Democrats appeared to be in the 10th District, in the agricultural hub of California’s Central Valley. GOP Rep. Jeff Denham ― who often breaks with his party on immigration policy ― won just 38 percent of the vote, according to the AP, as many Republicans instead backed little-funded veterinarian Ted Howze. Howze is within 850 votes of Democratic investor and community college professor Josh Harder for the second slot.

Preliminary results show the Democrats being shut out in just one of California’s 53 House districts ― the 8th, where the party wasn’t banking on unseating GOP Rep. Paul Cook anyway. Cook easily led a five-candidate race, but in late returns Republican Tim Donnelly, a former state assemblyman, was running second, less than 1,000 votes ahead of Democrat Marjorie Doyle. The sprawling district runs along much of California’s border with Nevada and includes most of San Bernardino County.

None of the results are final ― California voters had until Tuesday to postmark their ballots, and mail-in votes don’t have to arrive to officials until Friday. Past elections in the state have seen large swings between election night and the final count. 

The final November matchups remain unsettled in a number of other primaries. In the 25th District, which covers parts of Los Angeles and Ventura counties, Katie Hill was just 1,500 votes ahead of fellow Democrat Bryan Caforio for the right to challenge Republican Rep. Steve Knight in November. And in the 45th District in Orange County, Elizabeth Warren protege Katie Porter had a 2,600-vote edge over fellow Democrat Dave Min for second place. The winner will face GOP Rep. Mimi Walters in November.

This article has been updated with results from the 8th Congressional District.

Gil Cisneros, the candidate backed by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, California's 39th Congressional Distri
Bill Clark via Getty Images
Gil Cisneros, the candidate backed by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, California's 39th Congressional District, appears to have made the November ballot in the race for an open seat.
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