List of Active Candidates for Rohrabacher’s House Seat Shrinks But the Ballot Doesn’t

Stelian Onufrei announces his withdrawal from congressional race, delighting a smiling Scott Baugh. Photo from Twitter/@ScottRBaugh

There are now fewer candidates actively seeking the 48th congressional district seat that Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-Putin’s Sleeping Bag) is trying to keep.

Not that the June primary election ballot will reflect that.

Candidates who exited the race after the March 9 filing deadline remain on the ballot.

On Thursday morning, Republican businessman Stelian Onufrei became the latest candidate to drop out. Onufrei also publicly threw his support in the race to former Rohrabacher friend, state Assembly GOP leader and Orange County Republican Party chairman Scott Baugh, whose Newport Beach campaign office hosted the announcement.

“If I were to stay in the race, Scott would have had a much harder time to be able to make it to the [November general election] runoff against Dana and win,” Onufrei told attendees of the press conference. “I believe that Scott is a much better choice than Dana.”

Under California’s “jungle primary” system, it is no longer that top vote-getters from each political party who advance to a general election showdown, it is only the top two voter-getters period. That creates the possibility that the final two candidates will come from the same party–and there is a strong chance the pair will be Baugh and Rohrabacher since voters in the coastal Orange County district have already cast ballots for both men for years. 

Perhaps that explains why Baugh was beaming during Onufrei’s announcement. By Baugh and Onufrei’s side were fellow GOP candidates for the 48th seat Paul Martin and  Shastina Sandman, who pointed her “I [Heart] Trump” coffee mug at the cameras. Rohrabacher was not there.

From left: Paul Martin, Shakina Sandman and Baugh at Onufrei’s withdrawal announcement. Photo from Twitter/@Elex_Michaelson

While Republicans hold the registration edge in the 48th, more voters there cast ballots for Hillary Clinton than for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election. That fact explains why so many progressive and Democratic Party resources have been poured into the upcoming congressional election–and why so many Democrats declared themselves candidates in the 48th early.

Saying she feared the idea of Democrats being frozen out of the general election, Laura Oatman withdrew from the race on March 21, throwing her support to Harley Rouda because the Laguna Beach businessman “represents the best choice to flip the 48th district from red to blue.”

Fellow Democrat Michael Kotick made the exact same move on April 11, saying in a statement, “Harley has shown a consistent commitment to building support from the community-up and continues to gain momentum—and momentum wins races.”

By then, yet another Democratic candidate, Boyd Roberts, had already pulled out. The Laguna Beach real estate broker endorsed Hans Keirstead, who also has the official backing of the California Democratic Party. 

During their withdrawal announcements, Oatman and Kotick separately urged other Democrats to get out of the primary race so support can coalesce around a front-runner and prevent an all-GOP November ballot. But Rouda, Keirstead, Rachel Payne, Omar Siddiqui and Tony Zarkades were still actively campaigning as of this week.

Another Democratic candidate, who seemed to pop out of nowhere, has made little noise on the campaign trail, although longtime Laguna Niguel resident and DUI counseling program owner Deanie Schaarsmith did post this statement:

I am a California native and grew up in Huntington Beach. I am now raising my children in Laguna Niguel. I look forward to the day when my children stop having active shooter drills at their schools. I want our beaches and oceans to be clean. We don’t need to step in tar or see poisoned marine life when we go to the beach because of an oil spill. I see every day the toll that opioids and other drugs take on our families and communities. We need to try something different. Mental health care is nonexistent. Insurance companies will not treat you unless you are suicidal or a threat to others. We deserve better. We shouldn’t wait until people are a danger to treat them. Children need health care, proper nutrition and education. Our infrastructure is crumbling. The prison system is broken and should not be for profit. We must have fair elections, without other countries interference. We can have safety in our schools and beautiful beaches. We can have safer streets and modern transportation. We can help people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol. Our children can grow up healthy and educated.

If I am elected to the House of Representatives, I will vote to make these dreams a reality. I have spent years dealing with state, county, local and federal regulations, and will use my knowledge to support and draft bills that will help us reach our goals of a better, safer America.

While Roberts announced he had withdrawn the same week Oatman did, his name was not on the official certified list of candidates for the 48th district that the California Secretary of State posted on March 29. That list has as the Democrats who will be on the June ballot as:

  • Keistead (neuroscientist/professor/entrepreneur)
  • Kotick (global business executive)
  • Oatman (architect/business owner)
  • Payne (technology CEO/entrepreneur)
  • Rouda (tech entrepreneur)
  • Schaarsmith (business owner, CFO)
  • Siddiqui (FBI adviser/attorney)
  • Zarkades (airline pilot)

On the official list for the GOP:

  • Baugh (Orange County business owner)
  • John Gabbard (small business owner)
  • Martin (businessman)
  • Onufrei (business owner)
  • Rohrabacher (incumbent)
  • Sandman (CEO/entrepreneur/mother)

Rounding out the official ballot are business operations manager Brandon Reiser (Libertarian) and licensed investment professional Kevin Kensinger (no party preference).

A March 4-6 poll by Change Research for Fight Back CA PAC, which received 757 responses from people in the 48th district, of whom 688 indicated they will be voting in the primary, Rohrabacher received 35 percent of the vote, followed next by Rouda and Oatman tying one another with 10 percent on a long ballot that listed all the candidates without descriptions of them.

On a long ballot with descriptions, Rohrabacher got 29 percent while Keirstead and Baugh tied at 12 percent. A narrow ballot that omitted Baugh showed Rohrabacher at 41 percent and Keirstead at 18 percent.

These were the takeaways, according to pollsters:

  • Rohrabacher is clearly atop the crowed primary field.
  • The field of Democrats are splitting the vote.
  • Second place Republican Scott Baugh polls at about the same level as the leading Democrats on the long ballot.
  • This suggests that if all of the possible candidates run in the primary, Baugh and Rohrabacher could potentially be the top two vote-getters, advancing to the general and leaving Democrats out altogether.
  • The inclusion of candidate descriptions saw some of the leading Democrats gain points. Kierstead gained 6 points and Siddiqui gained 7 points.
  • For Republicans, with the inclusion of descriptions, Baugh gained 5 points and Rohrabacher lost 6 points.
  • In a narrowed field without Baugh, Rohrabacher is the clear leader and Kierstead is the runner-up and Democratic leader.
  • Siddiqui and Rouda are close behind, and split the vote with 14% each. 

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