After 30 years in office, Orange County Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher is facing his toughest re-election.
Rohrabacher, 70, is being challenged by more than a dozen people in the June primary, including his former ally, Republican Scott Baugh.
His opponents say he’s been in office too long, is too much of a fan of Russia and its president Vladimir Putin and doesn’t adequately tend to the needs of his district. Democrats are targeting his seat as part of a national “blue wave” effort to retake the house.
While he advocates for stronger immigration restrictions and loves President Trump, he voted against the recent Republican tax cut and he strongly favors marijuana legalization.
But Rohrabacher isn’t worried. “We are going to hold California’s 48th district for the Republican party and for President Trump,” he wrote on his Facebook page April 19. “Nancy Pelosi is not going to be speaker again! #CA48 #RedWave.”
Nonetheless Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute of Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles, said Rohrabacher is one of the most vulnerable Republican congressmen in the nation. His district, which was a reliable Republican stronghold, voted for Hillary Clinton in the presidential election.
Rohrabacher hasn’t been that popular with the Republican caucus, Sonenshein said. “He’s been considered eccentric politically,” he said.
While he advocates for stronger immigration restrictions and loves President Trump, he voted against the recent Republican tax cut and he strongly favors marijuana legalization. The Republican caucus has “never felt that he’s a party guy even though he’s plenty conservative,” Sonsenshein said. “He marches to the beat of his own drummer.”
In December, he spoke about his first surfboard (a large, single-fin Velzy) on the House of Representatives floor.
Rohrabacher’s district includes the coastal communities like Laguna Beach, Newport Beach and Huntington Beach as well as portions of Santa Ana and Garden Grove.
A native of Southern California, Rohrabacher was born in Coronado, graduated from Palos Verde High School and like many in the region, developed a passion for surfing. In December, he spoke about his first surfboard (a large, single fin Velzy) on the House of Representatives floor as part of remarks memorializing “Endless Summer” surfing documentary maker Bruce Brown.
Rohrabacher earned a bachelor’s degree from California State University Long Beach and a master’s degree in American studies from the University of Southern California before launching a career as a journalist. At one point, he served as an editorial writer for the Orange County Register.
Rohrabacher then became assistant press secretary in Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaign, serving as speech writer after he won the election. Rohrabacher was elected to Congress in 1988.
As a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Rohrabacher has been a strong advocate for Russia. He was questioned by the Senate Intelligence Committee over multiple trips to Russia and a meeting with Wikileaks founder Julian Asange before the 2016 election. In 2012, the FBI warned Rohrabacher that Russian spies were trying to recruit him as an agent.
We’ve been supporting him for 8-10 years because he has stood against illegal immigration.” — William Gheen
Rohrabacher has spoken out strongly against California’s sanctuary law – Senate Bill 54, “The California Values Act,” which limits the use of local law enforcement resources for federal immigration enforcement efforts.
“We don’t want our state to be a sanctuary state,” he said in an interview on Fox News that he posted on the top of his official website. “Already we have a massive flow of illegal immigrants coming in to our state, undermining the safety of our neighborhoods, draining our public resources for education and health care.”
Rohrabacher is one of only three California Congressmembers endorsed by Americans for Legal Immigration. “We’ve been supporting him for 8-10 years because he has stood against illegal immigration and amnesty that would further compromise our borders and laws,” said William Gheen, the group’s president.
The congressman has also worked to get the federal government not to enforce marijuana laws in states that have legalized the drug.
Hezekiah Allen, the executive director of the California Growers Association, praised Rohrabacher for his consistent stance on marijuana legalization. “He’s been one of the few willing to stand up for common sense and good policy on this issue for man, many years,” he said. “He’s done a tremendous amount to elevate the issue.”
“The real question is whether voters in the district care about the same things as national observers.” — Jack Pitney
But Scott Baugh, Rohrabacher’s main Republican challenger, said Rohrabacher has his priorities in the wrong order. “I think his preoccupation with Russia and marijuana to the exclusion of issues the district cares about is a strong indication it’s time to retire,” he said.
Baugh believes that Rohrabacher’s 30 years in office is more than enough. He points out that the Rohrabacher spoke out in favor of term limits in the early in his years in Congress. Rohrabacher was quoted in a 1993 States News Service article as saying: “After you’ve been here for so long, no matter who you are, even if you’re a saint, you begin having the consciousness that you belong here. You’re actually part of the system here rather than representing your people back home.”
Jack Pitney, political science professor at Claremont McKenna College, believes Rohrabacher’s longevity is his strength. Voters are familiar with his name, and he has an established fund-raising network.
“The real question is whether voters in the district care about the same things as national observers,” he said, citing concerns about his Russian advocacy. “I honestly don’t know.”