Democrat Harley Rouda won the seat long held by Republican Orange County Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, The Associated Press reported late Saturday afternoon.
The APs race call is based on the statistical probability of Rouda maintaining the lead in the race as the remaining general election ballots are counted.
Earlier in the day, Rouda declared his own victory over the Costa Mesa congressman, who has served the coastal district for some 30 years.
But Rohrabachers campaign did not concede, noting there are more than 300,000 ballots countywide that have yet to be counted.
In e-mails before and after the AP race call, Dale Neugebauer, Rohrabachers campaign spokesman, said that the tally is too close to comment on until a final count is in.
“There are still more than 300,000 ballots remaining to count. Our volunteer observers are at the Registrar of voters observing that process. We will have additional comment once the count is complete.”
The 48th Congressional District seat became one of the most competitive and expensive races in the nation. Rohrabacher was targeted by Democrats as a vulnerable candidate whose seat could be flipped blue in what has traditionally been a solid Republican district.
The Associated Press declared Rouda the winner at 5:36 p.m. Saturday, shortly after the Orange County Registrar of Voters posted its last update of the day.
Rouda, a Laguna Beach real estate executive, was leading Rohrabacher with 109,591 votes, or 52 percent, to Rohrabachers 101,081 votes or 48 percent, according to the latest Orange County Registrar of Voters unofficial results update.
In a statement Saturday, Rouda said his lead has been increasing daily since Election Day: “…my staff and I are now confident that we have won the Congressional race in Californias 48th District.
“This victory has been powered by voters across the political spectrum, hailing from all corners, and all communities, of the 48th District,” Rouda said.
Ben Ray Luján, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which supports Democratic House candidates, issued a statement Saturday morning congratulating Rouda: “In the most Republican congressional district in one of the countrys most famed Republican strongholds, it takes a special kind of candidate to win. Congressman-elect Harley Rouda was that candidate. We were proud to stand alongside Harley to win in the June primary, and we are proud to stand with him as he makes history in Orange County.”
There still are 329,435 ballots left to count as of Saturday night, including an estimated 160,000 provisional ballots and another 130,534 vote-by-mail ballots returned at the polls.
The congressman, once a speech writer for Ronald Reagan, faced some new controversies in the months before Election Day. Among them, his name came up during an indictment of a Russian woman charged by federal officials for allegedly acting as an unregistered agent of the Kremlin. (Rohrabacher said the allegations were bogus and an attempt to undermine Trumps relationship with Russia.)
Rohrabachers apparent ouster from his seat in Orange County has historical and symbolic significance. Orange County was once home to President Richard Nixon and long considered a foundational block in the modern conservative movement. Reagan himself likened it to a Republican heaven.
But demographics in the county and the state have been changing, affecting voting patterns. In 2016, for the first time since the 1930s, Orange County voted for a Democrat during a presidential election, when Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump in the county.
Shifts in demographics and voter registration set the stage for competitive House races this year in Orange County. So did opposition to Trump.
California has been at the forefront against many of Trumps policies, especially regarding the environment and immigration. Rohrabacher has defended Trump, and the president, in turn, has endorsed the congressman.
Thank you, President @realDonaldTrump! Patriots here in OC appreciate your leadership in stopping illegal immigration & many other issues. Im grateful for your support. #maga #KAG #ca48 #redwave https://t.co/BplEHG5Iym https://t.co/UavhHPWQEH
— Dana Rohrabacher (@DanaRohrabacher) November 5, 2018
The Associated Press contributed to this report.