In a California district Democrats are targeting this cycle, Laguna Beach businessman Harley Rouda is now the second candidate to announce a challenge to 15-term Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher.
“We need new leadership that is willing to put country over party, and put service above self,” Rouda, 55, said in a statement Thursday. The first-time candidate founded the national real estate company Real Living and is working with a fundraising veteran of Hillary for America.
Rohrabacher is one of President Donald Trump’s strongest allies in Congress and has long been known for his pro-Russia views. He won his 48th District seat last fall by 17 points. But Hillary Clinton carried the district by 2 points, which has landed it on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s target list for 2018. Mitt Romney carried the district by 12 points four years earlier.
The coastal Orange County congressman has been on retirement watch lists for several cycles. He ended 2016 with about $240,000 in the bank. He had been considered a potential candidate for secretary of State in the Trump administration. Former Orange County GOP Chairman Scott Baugh, who has more than half a million dollars in a federal campaign account, is expected to run if Rohrabacher were to retire, the Los Angeles Times reported last month.
Rohrabacher dismissed reports of then-Sen. Jeff Sessions’ conversations with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. before the election, an apparent contradiction of what the Alabama Republican said during his confirmation hearing to become attorney general.
"The Democrats and their allies in the elite media are clearly obsessed with placing blame for their rejection at the polls on their fantasy of a nefarious Russia-Republican cabal," Rohrabacher said in a Thursday evening statement.
"The latest desperate attack was aimed at Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who as a senator and campaign policy adviser had two relatively inconsequential meetings with the Russian ambassador, forgot about them, and/or did not understand Sen. Al Franken's convoluted question," Rohrabacher said.
"Big deal!" Rohrabacher continued, defending Sessions as one of "the most honorable figures on the Washington political scene."
Rouda’s campaign expects Rohrabacher’s warmth toward Russia to be a central contrast in the race. In his announcement, he said that the district needs a representative who “believes” in science, “women’s rights, human rights, and liberties for all.”
The other Democrat in the race, real estate broker Boyd Roberts, is making Rohrabacher’s enthusiasm for Russia a big focus of his campaign, which he launched last month. He has also started a political action committee called Impeach Trump to support congressional candidates who support impeaching the president.
“Dana Rohrabacher is the best candidate to go up against in the nation right now,” Roberts said at his campaign launch, alluding to what some in Rohrabacher’s own party have called his “fringe” views on Russia. Roberts ran a short-lived campaign against GOP Rep. Ken Calvert in California’s 42nd District in 2014, but never raised much money.