Politics

DCCC Takes Sides to Avoid Shutout in Crowded California Primary

Democrats are targeting Dana Rohrabacher, backing Harley Rouda

Harley Rouda, Democratic challenger to GOP Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, has been added to the DCCC’s Red to Blue program. (Thomas McKinless/CQ Roll Call file Photo).

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is taking sides in a crowded California primary in the 48th District, backing businessman Harley Rouda, in an attempt to avoid a nightmare scenario of being shut out of the November ballot.

Rouda was added to the DCCC’s “Red to Blue” program on Friday, giving him additional access to committee resources. The move is also evidence that Democrats are stepping up the effort to coalesce around one candidate.

In California, the top two vote-getters in the June 5 primary advance to the November election regardless of party affiliation. This district is one of a handful of California races where Democrats are concerned multiple candidates on their side could split the Democratic vote, allowing two Republicans to advance to the November ballot.

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That’s especially a concern in the 48th District, where Democrats and Republicans have lined up to take on GOP Rep. Dana Rohrabacher. Those concerned heightened with former Orange County GOP Chairman Scott Baugh made a last-minute entry into the race.

Rouda, a political newcomer, was successful in real estate, founding the company Real Living.

“Harley has demonstrated that he is the strongest Democrat in this race and best prepared for the general election, and with the grass roots and numerous California delegation Members strongly behind him, we know we will flip this district this fall,” DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., said in a press release.

The statement announcing Rouda’s addition to Red to Blue also included a comment from the Indivisible Orange County 48 Leadership Team — a sign the DCCC is not looking to square off with grass-roots activists over its involvement in the primary.

“We’ve been hard at work for more than a year to defeat Dana Rohrabacher and bring change to our district,” the team said in a statement. “We believe that the only way we can accomplish this goal is by Democrats and like-minded Independents and Republicans to unite around Harley Rouda, a strong progressive whom we were proud to endorse last week.

But the DCCC's move does contradict the state Democratic Party's endorsement process, where delegates backed prominent stem cell researcher Hans Keirstead.

State Party chairman Eric Bauman said in a statement that the California Democratic Party and the DCCC have had a "productive and successful partnership", and he encouraged the DCCC not to attack the state party's candidate.

"Throughout our partnership, I have been consistently clear on one key point: when CDP delegates endorse a candidate, that candidate is the official candidate of the Party, and the DCCC should tread carefully in openly supporting a different candidate," Bauman said.

"California Democratic activists value our independence and the grassroots nature of our endorsement process," Bauman said. "Decisions that undercut the independence or our endorsed candidates have the potential to be extraordinarily counterproductive."

The DCCC's announcement comes after the Rouda campaign released a poll Thursday night showing Baugh, Rouda, and Keirstead locked in a fight for second place behind Rohrabacher. The poll, conducted by Tulchin Research, had 30 percent of respondents backing Rohrabacher, with Rouda, Baugh and Keirstead all garnering 13 percent. Eighteen percent of voters surveyed were undecided.

The poll surveyed 400 likely primary voters from May 1-5 via live phone interviews using both landline and mobile phones, as well as online surveys. The margin of error was 4.9 points.

A poll from Keirstead’s campaign shared with Roll Call also found a close battle for second place in the primary. The poll, conducted by Anzalone Liszt Grove Research, also found Rohrabacher at 31 percent, Baugh at 15 percent, Keirstead at 14 percent, and Rouda at 13 percent. Twelve percent of voters were undecided.

The poll surveyed 400 likely primary voters from May 6-8 via landline and cell phones. The margin of error was 4.9 percent.

 Omar Siddiqui, a former Republican who worked for the FBI, is also competing in the primary on the Democratic side, along with a few other Republicans. Hillary Clinton carried the Orange County district by 2 points. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Tilts RepublicanGet breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.