Voters in California's key congressional districts, who could help or hurt Democrats' effort this year to regain control of the U.S. House, delivered a muddled message to President Trump in yesterday's primary election.
In their first chance to issue a clear statement following Trump's 2016 election, voters pushed two pro-Trump incumbents into the general election along with an increasingly tough critic of the president, Democrat Senate incumbent Dianne Feinstein.
Final results could take days, possibly weeks, to tally as ballots continue to be counted across the state. But unofficial returns Wednesday showed Republicans remain a factor in deep-blue California despite their dwindling numbers, advancing candidates into the November runoff to battle another day.
As expected, Democrats split their support among several candidates in five key Southern California congressional districts. They had worried their splintered votes would shut them out of the general election under the state's primary system that moves forward the top two vote-getters. But the latest returns suggest that won't happen.
GOP incumbent representatives Mimi Walters and Dana Rohrabacher, both Trump backers, skated into the general election. In Walters' 45th district, covering Irvine, Tustin, Orange, Anaheim Hills, Rancho Santa Margarita, and Mission Viejo, Democratic challenger Katie Porter appeared headed for a second-place spot on the November ballot with 20 percent of the vote.
In Rohrabacher's 48th district, taking in Seal Beach, Sunset Beach, Huntington Beach, Midway City, Costa Mesa, and Newport Beach, the party of the second-place finisher is less clear. Democrats Harley Rouda and Hans Keirstead are neck-and-neck for the number two spot. But Republican candidate Scott Baugh isn't far behind.
In the other closely watched GOP districts in Southern California where Democrat Hillary Clinton won the 2016 presidential election:
• Incumbent Steve Knight from the 25th district, which includes Santa Clarita, Simi Valley, Palmdale and Lancaster, moves on to the general election with Democrat Katie Hill holding a slight edge over Democrat Bryan Caforio in the battle for second place on the ballot. In 2016, Knight faced Caforio, receiving 53 percent of the vote to Caforio 47 percent.
• In Congressman Ed Royce's 39th district, covering Diamond Bar, Yorba Linda, Rowland Heights, La Habra and Buena Park, the field blew wide open when he decided not to seek reelection. With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Republican Young Kim and Democrat Gil Cisneros are poised to move on to November.
• Like Royce, Congressman Darrell Issa opted not to seek reelection, opening up the race in his 49th district that takes in Dana Point, Solana Beach, San Clemente, Oceanside and Carlsbad. There, Republican Diane Harkey with 26 percent of the vote appears set to face Democrat Mike Levin, who won 17 percent of the vote. Fellow Democrat Sara Jacobs came in third with 15 percent.
Voters face choice of 2 Democrats in Senate race
In preliminary returns, Kevin de León, former state Senate president pro tem, outpaced Republican James Bradley to win a spot on the ballot for U.S. Senate along with Feinstein.
Bradley, a political unknown, spent very little in the election, in comparison to the de León. In the first five and a half months of year, Bradley raised less than $10,000 in campaign funds. In comparison, de León raised over $1 million for his campaign.
In early counts, Bradley seemed to have the edge. But as ballots from de León's Los Angeles base rolled in, he solidified his place in the runoff election.
De León, who presented himself as a progressive alternative to the moderate Feinstein, pressured the incumbent to shift to the left as the campaign evolved. But her name recognition, seniority and practical politics proved advantages, propelling her into the November runoff.
At his election night gathering in Los Angeles, de León said: "I haven't been a politician for 50 years. That's the reality. But if people have an opportunity to hear my values, my policies and my vision for this state, they come around."
Voter Herminia Trejo cast her ballot in downtown Los Angeles for de León, not out of great enthusiasm for him, she said, but mainly in opposition to the incumbent, Feinstein.
"Because I feel like she's a Republican in Democrat's clothing. I feel like Dianne Feinstein is further to the right than I would like for a Democrat in California," Trejo said.
But downtown Los Angeles resident Jennifer Park decided against voting for de León. She disagrees with some of Feinstein’s stances on issues like national security. But Park said it's important to her to have women in Congress.
"It was a close call for me. I think he is a more progressive candidate. And I do think we need younger people in Congress," said Park. "But, yeah. She's so established, and despite what people say about the establishment, I think she can still get a lot done for us."
This story has been updated.