By Andrea Adelson and Victoria Kertz | LB and NB Indy
In a first sign of consolidation among candidates bidding to unseat Rep. Dana Rohrabacher in the midterm election, Newport Beach resident and architect Laura Oatman this week ended her campaign and endorsed one of her Democratic rivals.
Oatman made the announcement Wednesday in a message to her supporters. She cited a number of reasons for her decision to step aside, namely the unusually large number of Democratic candidates diluting the “blue” vote.
“….recent polling shows that the only way for a Democrat to be on the ballot in November is for all of us to unify around one Democratic candidate,” her email reads. “Maybe this is true, maybe it’s not, but this is NOT the year for us to take that risk.”
She is throwing her support behind Harley Rouda of Laguna Beach, the message explains.
“Harley Rouda represents the best choice to flip the 48th District from red to blue,” Oatman said in the prepared statement.
Republican voters hold an edge in the coastal district that spans Seal Beach to Laguna Beach. Its GOP incumbent is in his 15th term. In addition to a handful of Democratic hopefuls, Rohrabacher now also faces competition within his own party from Republican rival Scott Baugh, former GOP chair in Orange County.
In her message, Oatman urges the other Democrat challengers to end their campaigns and unite around Rouda, who she called the “strongest” candidate.
“I am hoping all local activists, the majority of whom have been split between supporting myself or Harley, can now unite into one mighty force, and we can work together to get Dana out. I am calling on all six other Democratic candidates to do the same; this is not about any one of us. This is about all of us,” she wrote.
Rouda thanked Oatman via Twitter on Wednesday night.
“It has been one of my greatest honors to campaign along side you. Your commitment to the constituents in #CA48 and everyone’s collective effort to #FlipitBlue will be the road map we use together to move all of us forward. Thank you,” his tweet reads.
Recent public polling from Fight Back CA, a California-based Democratic PAC dedicated to flipping GOP-held seats to blue, provides conflicting indicators over the impact of Oatman’s decision in defining who is the front-runner among Rohrabacher challengers.
Oatman ties with Rouda behind Rohrabacher in one Fight Back poll that lacks candidate descriptions of 688 likely primary voters; in a poll that includes the descriptions, another rival, Hans Keirstead, comes in second behind the incumbent, just ahead of Baugh and Rouda.
Two other Democrats in the race who have surpassed Oatman in donor contributions are not ceding ground to Rouda.
“These polls show that Harley Rouda does not gain enough support to become the frontrunner and his efforts bring Democrats very close to getting locked out of the primary,” Keirstead campaign manager Kyle Quinn said in a statement. The stem cell scientist from Laguna Beach secured the endorsement of the state Democratic Party.
Omar Siddiqui, of Costa Mesa, also has no plans to heed Oatman’s unity plea, said campaign manager Luis Aleman.
“We’re continuing the fight to June because we have the money and polling shows a path to victory,” Aleman said.
Another Laguna Beach Democratic frontrunner in the race, Michael Kotick, said Thursday that he respected Oatman’s decision, but planned on continuing his campaign.
“With Laura respectfully deciding to drop out of this race, I will continue to use my experience and passion to advocate for real solutions that affect everyday people — something that is missing in Washington DC,” Kotick said. “The momentum for this campaign continues to grow and I look forward to taking on Dana Rohrabacher in November.”
Republicans, too, now confront a race that divides loyalties, with both Baugh and Rohrabacher financially prepared for a fight.
“An intra-party challenge to an incumbent in good standing takes Republican dollars, donors and volunteers away from where our focus needs to be,” said Fred Whitaker, chair of the Republican Party of Orange County, which followed party protocol and endorsed Rohrabacher.
Prior to the filing deadline, Whitaker said he delivered to Baugh a letter signed by 30 party leaders asking him not to enter the race.
“Yet, on Friday, he chose to take a path to the contrary,” Whitaker said.
Moderate Republican candidate Paul Martin is another Republicans challenging Rohrabacher within his own party. Martin said that he knows Oatman and that they were unique among the many candidates.
“Laura and I both live the Newport-Mesa community. We raised our families here. We are both OC natives. None of the challengers can say these things and understand the issues voters here face,” he said.
Among the Democratic challengers, Oatman had backing from several progressive groups, including Democracy for America, Justice Democrats and Our Revolution.
Rouda last week added endorsements from Reps. Loretta Sanchez, Lou Correa and Alan Lowenthal.
Democrat voters and pundits went online to voice their support for Oatman’s decision and thank her. Writer Jeff Pearlman, who has beseeched the Democrats to unite behind one candidate since early March, applauded her move.
“It couldn’t have been easy. It couldn’t have been fun,” Pearlman noted. “But it’s righteous. Bravo.”
Because she already officially filed for her candidacy, Oatman’s name will still appear on the June primary ballot.