ORANGE, Calif. -- In some of the state's most closely watched congressional races, Democrats were clinging to leads Wednesday in Orange County districts, most notably with Reps. Katie Porter and Mike Levin hoping to fend off Republican challengers.
Porter, D-Irvine, squared off Tuesday against former Orange County Republican Party Chairman Scott Baugh in the 47th District race, and returns showed the contest too close to call as vote-counting continued.
Baugh told City News Service he feels confident the remaining votes to be counted will tilt in his favor.
"If you look at our trajectory, we made up 19,000 votes (Tuesday night), so I feel great. We're headed in the right direction," Baugh said.
Democrats had surged to early leads based on early voting, but later Tuesday night the day-of-election vote center ballots favored Republicans, Baugh said.
The Baugh-Porter race will be one of several that are critical to whomever holds the gavel as House Speaker next year.
"Who knew it would come down to a race that 10 months ago no one thought could be won by a Republican," Baugh said. "She (Porter) spent $26 million this cycle and a lot of people were afraid of that money, but I always thought she wasn't the right fit for this district so I was not afraid to run against her."
Porter told her supporters Tuesday night her campaign was a "fight for a better country, one where our economy is fair and our society is just. Thank you from the bottom of my heart."
Baugh said the key issues for voters were inflation, gas prices and crime.
"Abortion never once came up in conversation while I was out walking precincts," Baugh said. "The only time it came up was when reporters were asking me questions."
Baugh said he believes Republicans "will end up with not a huge margin but 225 or more seats."
In the 49th District, Levin, D-San Juan Capistrano, held a narrow lead Wednesday over Republican Brian Maryott, a former San Juan Capistrano mayor. The seat was another one that Republicans felt they could wrest away from Democrats.
In other races, Rep. Michelle Steel, R-Huntington Beach, appeared to outdistance Democrat Jay Chen in her bid for a second term in the 45th District. The two were locked in a bitter campaign with both sides accusing each other of racism.
Rep. Young Kim, R-Placentia, was heading toward victory over Democratic physician Asif Mahmood in the 40th District, while Rep. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, was besting Republican attorney Christopher Gonzales in the 46th District.
Correa said he would not accept any congratulations "until every vote is counted and everything is certified. I've had too many close ones and I've learned to respect the will of the voters the hard way. You can't declare victory until every vote is counted, especially in California."
Correa said as the polls closed he had "an ugly feeling in my gut that the red tsunami was going to sweep a lot of people out of office, and that red wave just never materialized. There's still an outside chance Democrats keep the lower house of Congress. Not a big opportunity, but still a glimmer of hope."
Correa said he is "used to winning by 70% and I'm at 58% right now. That's still healthy but not my kind of victory, and that tells you that Orange County is not that blue state people talked about. My district is not deep blue. That's important to keep in mind."
There are still 292,935 votes left to count by the Orange County Registrar of Voters. That does not include ballots dropped in the mail on election day or over the weekend. The Registrar still has 57,025 vote-by-mail ballots to process, 96,791 ballots from drop boxes and an estimated 129,177 ballots dropped off at vote centers.
Democrats have a lead in registered voters in the county with 682,923, compared to 602,172 for Republicans.
Aside from Congress, Orange County voters cast ballots Tuesday for three of the five seats on the county Board of Supervisors. Much attention was being focused on the race between Democratic incumbent Katrina Foley and Republican state Sen. Patricia Bates, a former supervisor. That race -- which was evenly matched and too close to call early Wednesday -- will decide whether Democrats have a majority on the board.
Foley told City News Service she was "cautiously optimistic."
She said the trend for vote-by-mail and drop boxes "were in my favor, so who knows? We'll have to wait and see what it is."
Meanwhile, Democrat Doug Chaffee, the county board chairman, held a lead over fellow Democrat Sunny Park, while Democratic Santa Ana Mayor Vicente Sarmiento was in a dead heat with fellow Democrat Kim Bernice Nguyen, a Garden Grove councilwoman.
Orange County Republican Party Chairman Fred Whitaker said the last few election cycles have shown that Republicans have been voting late, either at vote centers or by mail, so he believes the remaining ballots will favor his party.
"We know from the last three cycles that Republicans vote late and intentionally vote late, and we had a big push to get out to the vote to get people to get their ballots in," Whitaker said. "I'm very confident Scott Baugh wins and Pat Bates wins, and I'm pretty darn confident Brian Maryott wins too... The red wave may not have been very strong nationwide, but I think we've performed well here."
Whitaker said from what he saw at the Registrar of Voters on Wednesday, workers were "mostly opening up bags and sorting envelopes by areas. Then they were looking at signatures."
That process will take awhile so it might not be until Friday to get a handle on the ultimate results, Whitaker said.
Orange County Democratic Party Chair Ada Briceno said she was "very excited about making sure Democrats have the Board of Supervisors" majority.
"But I've got to say it's too early to say this is what happened," Briceno said. "We'll see some numbers shift a little bit (Wednesday night)... While there's a lot up in the air I'm feeling optimistic. I'm feeling much better than I did three or four days or even yesterday morning."
UC Irvine political science professor Louis DeSipio agreed that it was too early to tell how things will shake out.
The mid-terms nationally turned out to be a status quo election as DeSipio predicted.
"It's remarkable how little changed with the Senate and the House relative to the norms of a first-year presidential cycle," DeSipio said. "Any concerns Democrats had about a wave or tsunami seems to have been dampened. Republicans may take the House, but we knew that nine months ago. It'll be a narrow margin and that will create problems for (House Minority Leader Kevin) McCarthy. That affects California because he is a Californian."
Porter "was in a nail biter four years ago and the mail ballots kept going in her direction," DeSipio said. "So we'll have a signal on that in the next couple of days... She could end up matching the small Democratic advantage in the end."
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