Dana Rohrabacher, Russia's favorite congressman, has officially lost his reelection campaign

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher was defeated in a traditionally Republican district in part because of his pro-Russia views

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published November 11, 2018 3:00PM (EST)

Dana Rohrabacher   (AP/Lauren Victoria Burke)
Dana Rohrabacher (AP/Lauren Victoria Burke)

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, the California Republican once dubbed "Putin's favorite congressman" by Politico, has been officially defeated in his bid for reelection in California's 48th district.

Rohrabacher's defeat was handed to him by Harley Rouda, a real estate executive who left the Republican Party to become a Democrat, according to the Associated Press. Rouda had actually declared victory on Saturday, telling his supporters in a victory speech on Saturday morning that he was "deeply humbled and honored to have the opportunity to serve," according to the Los Angeles Times, but the AP didn't officially declare Rouda to be the winner until Sunday. Rohrabacher's defeat marks a stunning upset given that he represented a large section of Orange County, an area of California well known for its solid conservative politics.

Tony Quinn, a demographer and California campaign analyst, told the Times that "the district became much more of an anti-Trump suburb, and he no longer connected to the people there. He had an opponent who was a former Republican businessman, not some wild-eyed lefty. And for at least two years, people were willing to try something new."

Mike Madrid, a Republican political strategist, seemed to concur with Quinn's assessment.

"This is more than just a bad year. This is essentially a realignment in California politics, and the traditional base that has served the Republican Party no longer exists," Madrid told the Times.

In addition to general anti-Trump sentiment, Rohrabacher was harmed by his close ties to the Russian government of President Vladimir Putin. As The New York Times reported:

In July, Mr. Rohrabacher admitted to meeting with Maria Butina, who was charged by federal prosecutors this summer with conspiracy and acting as a foreign agent, during his trip to Russia in 2015. Mr. Rohrabacher was considered so valuable to the Kremlin that the F.B.I. warned him in 2012 that Russia regarded him as an intelligence source worthy of a code name. His support for President Vladimir Putin of Russia raised questions even among fellow Republicans.

Mr. Rouda capitalized on that in his campaign, running ads emphasizing Mr. Rohrabacher’s Putin ties and criticizing Mr. Rohrabacher for questioning the assertion by United States intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.

The AP also pointed to demographic trends in Rohrabacher's district as an explanation for his defeat:

Behind the shift: A surge in immigrants in recent decades transformed the state and its voting patterns. In Orange County, largely white, conservative homeowners once delivered winning margins for GOP candidates year after year. But most of the state’s new voters, Hispanics and Asians, are Democrats or independents.

Rohrabacher's defeat marks the end of a lengthy congressional career for the California congressman, who served as a speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan and was willing to buck his party on issues like marijuana legalization. He has represented California's 48th district since 1989.

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

MORE FROM Matthew Rozsa

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

2018 Midterm Elections Dana Rohrabacher Harley Rouda Rep. Dana Rohrabacher