GOP incumbent Rep. Michelle Steel and Democrat Jay Chen are considered the top contenders in today’s primary for the 45th Congressional District, which is centered around Little Saigon.
Also in the race is Republican Long Pham, an engineer from Fountain Valley who has challenged Steel from the right.
We’ll offer live updates here for this race as votes are counted, starting shortly after 8 p.m. tonight and potentially continuing over the next few days.
The two candidates with the most votes when all the primary ballots are tallied will face off in the decisive November general election, to see who will represent a C-shaped district that starts in Fountain Valley, curves north to pick up Cerritos in Los Angeles County and rounds out in Placentia.
Chen — a Hacienda Heights resident who plans to move to CA-45 if elected — has been expected to earn the highest share of primary votes, since he’s the only Democrat in the race. Steel, who also lives outside the district, in Seal Beach, is expected to split some GOP votes with Pham.
The newly drawn 45th District is the only Congressional race touching Orange County that forecasters currently rate as a straight toss-up, with Steel’s advantages as a first-term incumbent, including $4.2 million in campaign contributions, potentially offset by Democrats holding a 5-point advantage in voter registration. She also faces strong competition in Chen, who runs a real estate firm, is an intelligence officer in the Navy reserves and has raised $2.3 million this cycle.
The campaign already has been heated. In one scuffle, Steel, 66, who immigrated from South Korea as a young woman, accused Chen of racism. Then Chen, 44, who’s the son of Taiwanese immigrants and serves on the Board of Trustees at Mt. San Antonio College, accused Steel of red-baiting. And Pham, 71, who’s a former Orange County Board of Education member, has been painting Steel as too moderate.
National pundits are watching the race closely because it could play a role in determining which party controls the House for the next two years. While the boundaries are new, due to redistricting late last year, CA-45 includes portions of two districts that in recent elections have alternated between electing Democrats and Republicans.
The first round of results tonight will come from ballots that were mailed before Election Day. Those returns are expected to skew in favor of Democrats, since Trump and other GOP leaders sewed distrust of mail-in ballots. As in-person votes from today are added to the mix, vote counts may shift a bit more to the right.
Elections officials will continue counting mail-in ballots that were postmarked by today into next week. So if results are close, it might be several days before it’s clear who made it out of the primary.
Check here for updates as new vote counts come in.