Former Congressman Harley Rouda reentered the political arena on Thursday, announcing that he will be running for the 47th District congressional seat in Orange County in 2024, only two days after the current representative, Katie Porter (D-CA), announced that she would run for Senate that year.
Rouda, a graduate of the University of Kentucky, Capital University, and the Ohio State University (for his Bachelor’s, law degree, and MBA respectively), has largely avoided elected positions for most of his life. Following becoming a lawyer, he practiced law in Columbus, Ohio until 1990, when he pivoted his career and became head of a realty firm in Ohio. After moving to California, Rouda changed his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat, yet still remained out of the political light until 2018.
That year, he ran for Congress in the Orange County seat held by Republican Dana Rohrabacher, who had held the seat since 1989. Long considered safe, the seat was considered vulnerable that year due to Rohrabacher drawing criticism from the LGBT community, Rohrabacher’s decision to call in the police on peaceful protesters outside one of his offices, Michael Bloomberg dumping $4 million into Rouda’s campaign, the 2018 blue wave bringing in a large number of Democratic-leaning voters, and the district having experienced changing demographics for years in favor of Democratic candidates.
Rouda managed to get second place in the primary by just over 100 votes, and in the runup to November, the race became one of the tightest in the country. In a close race, Rouda ultimately won with over 53% of the vote, astounding political observers with his win. Once in Congress, Rouda quickly angered constituents by voting the opposite on issues in Congress on which he campaigned, such as on homelessness, healthcare, and economic issues. Even worse for Rouda, news of having tax issues and not reporting stock transactions as required by law in the leadup to the 2020 race continued to damage his credibility. That year, GOP candidate Michelle Steel defeated him at the polls in a close 51%-49% race, ousting him after only a lone term, and knocking the wind out of the sails for Democrats in Orange County, as several other elections that night in the County were lost to Republicans.
Although Rouda had said he would re-challenge Steel in 2022, redistricting prevented him from running last year, as he was no longer in Steel’s district. He instead sat out the cycle after dropping a bid to take on Porter in his new district. However, this week brought new life to Rouda’s political hopes, as Porter announced on Tuesday that she would be running for Senate instead in 2024, potentially leaving the seat open for challengers next year should she keep up her Senate campaign and opt not to run for the House. With this opening, Rouda only took a few days to decide before announcing his run for the seat in 2024.
Rouda announces 2024 run
“This is a battleground district. We need battle-tested leaders who know how to fight and win,” said Rouda in a statement on Thursday.
In a series of tweets, Rouda added that “Orange County deserves leaders that put bipartisanship ahead of brinkmanship, and are focused on delivering results for the hardworking families of our state. I was that leader in Congress, and I’m proud to run to be it again. After years of fires and droughts, California families are grappling with deadly storms and floods; disasters exacerbated by our climate crisis. In Congress, I will be laser-focused on resolving this crisis – and work with anyone to get it done.”
Orange County deserves leaders that put bipartisanship ahead of brinkmanship, and are focused on delivering results for the hardworking families of our state.
— Harley Rouda (@HarleyRouda) January 11, 2023
With Porter only a maybe, Rouda’s only challenger at the moment in the district is Republican Scott Baugh, who was less than 10,000 votes away from deseating Porter last year. Combined with Baugh being a known-name now, the district still being considered a swing district, and now possibly not having an incumbent run next year, many political observers have noted that the GOP is in a position to take back this district as well next year, potentially completely undoing all the gains the Democrats made with House seats there during the 2018 blue wave.
“Rouda, if he does end up becoming the Democratic candidate in that race next year, has to come out swinging,” explained Malik Griffin, a Los Angeles polling analyst, to the Globe on Thursday. “Porter had a huge scare last year, and many had predicted that she could lose in 2024 if she runs for reelection there again. She still can, as her whole Senate campaign could end in smoke, or she doesn’t win the primary, and she switches back to a House run. A lot can happen.”
“But assuming she is all-in on a Senate run and doesn’t run for the House, Rouda has to really bring it. His lone term in office wasn’t exactly successful, and Baugh is something of a rising star. Rouda does have cross-over appeal since he is a very centrist Democrat, but Baugh has that appeal too. And that’s assuming no other Democrat or Republican joins in before the primary.”
“I think it’s foolish that so many candidates are jumping into races this early on as 2022 election day was only two months ago. But it’s the nature for big races now too. Rouda has a chance to win, but there is just so much working against him right now. And unlike 2018, he cannot get a huge number of blue wave, anti-Trump voters on his side this time to help him coast to victory.”
Other Democrat and Republican candidates are likely to announce their campaigns for the 2024 47th district failed race in the near future.
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