The race to represent the 48th Congressional District in Orange County is one of the competitive House races across the country. Incumbent Rep. Harley Rouda, a Democrat, is looking to retain his seat and fend off Republican county Supervisor Michelle Steel.
About the district:
Most of coastal Orange County, as well as parts of Santa Ana, Garden Grove and Westminster.
About the race:
Rouda, 58, defeated a formidable opponent — incumbent Dana Rohrabacher, a California GOP stalwart who served in Congress for three decades and had President Trump’s endorsement — when he turned the seat blue in 2018. That was the freshman congressman’s first run for political office.
This time around, Rouda will face off against Steel, who has served in her current position since 2015. The Republican candidate will try to flip the district’s traditionally conservative seat — one that had never been in Democratic hands until Rouda’s election — back to the GOP.
Rouda said that, if reelected, he planned to continue focusing on issues like climate change, the environment and lower prescription drug prices.
Steel also cited health care as among her priorities, but also said she would focus on lowering taxes if elected to represent the district. She also touts herself as a budget hawk.
“I know how to cut because we just passed the budget and giving out the — you know, what they really need for the [Orange County] Sheriff’s Department, social service agency, health care agency, without raising taxes, without laying off anybody. And you know, without emptying our reserve,” Steel told KTLA.
In terms of health care, Rouda has voted to enhance the Affordable Care Act; Steel opposes the legislation and supports a market-based system that will cover pre-existing conditions.
Millions of dollars are being spent on both sides for the race, which is among the most closely watched in the country.
The bitterly fought race was recently entwined in controversy over the state GOP’s placement of unofficial ballot boxes in Orange County that prompted a cease-and-desist letter from the California attorney general. A regional field director for the state party posted a social media photo of himself posing with the boxes while wearing a face mask with Steel’s campaign logo.
While Orange County has seen the number of registered Democrats overtake registered Republicans in recent years, the 48th District is an exception: more voters affiliate with the GOP, 38 to 33%. Steel hopes to levy that to her advantage, but Rouda is looking to sway moderates to his side.
“I believe most people are in the middle. And that’s why I was committed to to a bipartisan agenda. And that’s also why I’ve been endorsed by the United States Chamber of Commerce, because I am willing to reach across the aisle and always put country, community over party,” Rouda told KTLA.
While the race in the battleground district is considered competitive, Rouda does have an advantage, according to the Cook Political Report, which lists it as “lean Democratic.”
Rouda, who is originally from Ohio, holds a law degree from Capital University and an MBA from the Ohio State University. He was a real estate investor with a multimillion-dollar company before his first run for office in 2018, the Los Angeles Times reported. A former registered Republican, Rouda left the party in 1997 but didn’t change his party preference until 2017. He and his wife, author Kaira Rouda, have four children.
Steel, 65, was born in South Korea and immigrated to the U.S., where she went to Pepperdine University and received an MBA from USC. The businesswoman and tax payer advocate was elected to the state’s Board of Equalization prior to her first successful run for the O.C. Board of Supervisors in 2014. Last year, she was appointed by President Trump as the co-chair of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Steel is married to Shawn Steel, a member of the Republican National Committee and former chair of the California GOP. They have two daughters.