Democrats Claim Victory in California's 31st District Primary

In California's 31st District, Miller is retiring, leaving a competitive race for his seat. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 8:18 p.m. | Democrats have claimed victory in California's 31st District primary, with the party's candidate holding on to a  183-vote lead ahead of the third-place Republican, and more ballots yet to be counted. Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar, a Democrat, maintained his second-place standing in the top-two primary Thursday, after state election officials tallied more than 30,000 outstanding mail-in ballots.  

"I am honored that Inland Empire families have given me the chance to move on to the November election and ultimately represent them in Congress," Aguilar said in a statement shortly after results were released.

He currently leads former Capitol Hill aide Lesli Gooch, a Republican, 17.35 percent to 17 percent.  But there are about 5,200 provisional and other "emergency" ballots yet to be tallied in San Bernardino County. Officials have not set a date to count those ballots.

Jeff Stinson, Gooch's campaign manager, said Gooch will "absolutely not" concede the race until all of the remaining ballots are counted.  

But Aguilar and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee are claiming victory. DCCC Chairman Steve Israel of New York also congratulated Aguilar "for advancing to the general election tonight in California’s 31st District."  

Results will not be finalized until county election officials complete an official vote canvass by July 1 — the last day election officials have to count every last ballot cast in the primary.  

District voters have up to five days after those official results are reported to request a recount, according to California election law. The person requesting the recount must pay for it. The money would be returned if the requesting party's candidate "would not have so appeared in the absence of the recount," according to state election statute.  

The ultimate victor will face Republican businessman Paul Chabot — the first-place finisher Tuesday with 27 percent. Chabot already secured the first-place spot on the November ballot in the race to replace retiring  GOP Rep. Gary G. Miller.  

If Aguilar slips from his second-place position, Democrats will be shut out of this race in November.  

Gooch cut into Aguilar's lead from the initial results Tuesday.  

The 31st District, located east of Los Angeles in the Inland Empire, is strong Democratic territory and is rated a Leans Democratic  contest by the Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call.  

Under California's primary system, the top two vote recipients proceed to the general election, regardless of party. Last cycle, four Democrats splintered the party's vote in the district, allowing two Republicans to advance to the general election.  

A similarly crowded race led Democrats to worry they would again get shut out of this House district again in 2014.