Harley Rouda, Democratic Challenger to Rohrabacher, Draws Crowd

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Harley Rouda spoke to more than 80 people Nov. 16 at the Bonita Creek Community Center in Newport Beach. The Democratic hopeful for the 48th congressional district has an office in Newport Center and lives in Laguna Beach.
— Photo by Victoria Kertz ©

Is Newport Beach turning blue?

Harley Rouda, the front-runner in a slew of Democratic candidates for the 48th Congressional District, which includes Newport, certainly hopes so.

The businessman-turned-first-time-political-candidate held a town hall at Bonita Creek Community Center Nov. 16. More than 80 people filled the room to hear where Rouda stands on the biggest issues and ask questions.

“I am pro-business, I am pro-economy, I am pro-climate, and I am pro-progressive,” he told the audience.

Rouda said that jobs are the number one issue facing the country and that education is the key to helping rebuild the middle class. He asserted that he will advocate for education that spans from preschool to college or trade school, and “not just available, but affordable and accessible to everyone.”

This is Rouda’s first run for any kind of public office. At age 55, he said that he had been interested in public service his whole life, but that business obligations kept him in the private sector.

It was the election of Donald Trump, he said, that spurred him into action.

“I knew it was time after what occurred in November that we, as individuals, can no longer stand on the sidelines and expect our democracy to do what it’s supposed to do. We all have to be engaged,” he said.

“Like a lot of people in this room,” he remarked, “You were probably rather enraged by the idea that our democracy could put this guy in office.”

The Women’s March, when hundreds of thousands of women (and men) around the world marched on Jan. 21, reinforced his resolve.

“The Women’s March, around the world, told us there is a path forward. We can be the change we want to see,” he said.

Harley Rouda talks to residents after the Town Hall last week.
— Photo by Victoria Kertz ©

He admits that he lacks the name recognition that Dana Rohrabacher has. Rohrabacher has served as the Republican representative of the 48th congressional district for 13 straight terms. He was elected in 1988.  

But since announcing his run earlier this year, Rouda’s campaign has raised over $600,000 and has more than 500 volunteers.

The local town hall drew supporters from all over the 48th district, which also covers Seal Beach, Sunset Beach, Huntington Beach, Midway City, Westminster, Fountain Valley, Costa Mesa, Aliso Viejo, Laguna Beach, Laguna Niguel, and parts of Santa Ana.

Rouda told his supporters that polls showed he is “in a statistical dead heat with Rohrabacher.”

Kim McDaniel of Laguna Niguel, who attended the town hall, said she has already started knocking on doors on behalf of Rouda. She said that she visited about 75 of her neighbors, and was surprised at the reactions she received.

“They’ve been very receptive,” she said of her traditionally Republican neighborhood. “People are ready for a change.”

Barbara Clark, also of Laguna Niguel, agreed.

“There’s a lot at stake,” she said of the next election, “and there’s a lot of energy.”

“Clearly, what we have as a president of our U.S., in my opinion, and our congressman, they lack leadership qualities. They lack the basic ethos of what you need to be in a position of leadership… and I believe that I am the right person, at this time, for this district,” he declared.

The Cook Political Report, an independent group of pundits who analyze political races, says that the 48th congressional district has historically “leaned” Republican. Today, the report says, the area is a “toss-up.”

In last year’s presidential election, Hillary Clinton won the 48th district by two points.

Rouda said that he has the endorsement of a majority of democratic mayors in the district, retired California attorney general Bill Lockyer, and others.

But the primary election is eight months away.

Rouda faces six Democratic challengers just in the primary, which will be held June 5. Democratic challengers for the primary include Hans Keirstead, Michael Kotick, Laura Oatman, Boyd Roberts, Omar Siddiqui, and Tony Zarkades.

The general election is Nov. 6.

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