Election 2014: GOP takes Senate, but in California, Democrats keep hard-fought congressional seats
Updated 1:45 p.m.: Brownley-Gorell race still too close to call
The Ventura County congressional race that drew national attention and millions of dollars in spending is still too close to call, and it will be at least Friday before the results become any clearer, according to Ventura County's chief elections officer.
Incumbent Democrat Julia Brownley had 50.2 percent of the vote with all the precincts in — a lead of just 530 votes over Republican state Assemblyman Jeff Gorell — but more than 50,000 ballots remained uncounted.
Most of those are vote-by-mail ballots, but about 20 percent are so-called provisional ballots. Those are cast by voters whose names weren't found on the official rolls, who voted outside of their normal precinct or who had some other kind of problem. Those ballots take the longest to verify and count. The Ventura County registrar said an update was expected on Friday.
Vice President Joe Biden and former President Bill Clinton flew to Ventura this fall to help freshman Brownley keep her Congressional seat, which she had won by fewer than 10,000 votes in 2012. Gorell, a military veteran, had mounted a powerful effort to defeat Brownley, attracting support from House Speaker John Boehner and independent spending from a Koch brothers political action committed.
— Kitty Felde
Earlier: GOP takes Senate, but not California, in hard-fought races
Democratic State Sen. Ted Lieu, a Stanford graduate and Air Force veteran who airlifted Kurds out of northern Iraq, won a bid to replace Henry Waxman in Congress. Waxman had held the seat since Gerald Ford was president.
"I'm going to fight to make sure we enact strong climate change legislation. As an immigrant myself, I'm going to fight for comprehensive immigration reform. And I'm going to work every day to pass a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United," Lieu said.
Lieu had won 58 percent of the vote to defeat Republican Elan Carr, an Iraqi war veteran and gang prosecutor for the Los Angeles District Attorney.
Democratic Congressional candidate Pete Aguilar beat his Republican rival, Paul Chabot, garnering 51 percent of the vote. Another hard-fought race in Ventura, between Democrat Julia Brownley and Republican Jeff Gorell, was too close to call.
Those Southern California Congressional results came on a night when Republicans took control of the U.S. Senate and picked up at least nine seats in the House. Votes were still being counted in some races early Wednesday morning.
"I don't expect the President to wake up tomorrow and view the world any differently than he did this morning," Sen. Mitch McConnell, who won re-election in Kentucky and is likely to ascend to majority leader, said at his victory party Tuesday night. "He knows I won't either."
"I think if we saw dysfunction before, lord knows what we are going to see over these next few years,” Congresswoman Karen Bass of Los Angeles said during a visit to a party for Shiela Kuehl's bid for Los Angeles County Supervisor. (Kuehl was ahead of opponent Bobby Shriver early Wednesday morning.)
In Los Angles County, voter turnout was expected to be near historic lows because the governor's race was seen as such a shoo-in and political experts said there wasn't much on the ballot to draw out voters. Democrats' demographics include the young and Latino voters, both deemed “unreliable voters” by political experts.
Republicans are generally older and more consistent voters.
Talia Nouromid brought her grandmother Helen to the polls in Westwood Tuesday morning - and tried to convince all her friends to come out and vote for Carr, a Republican, even though she often skips mid-term elections.
"When he talked about the American Dream and coming here, it really resonated with me," she said. "My parents are both immigrants from Iran and they came here and lived out the American dream and became successful. They raised us with those values."
The district Carr was hoping to win - the 33rd - is thought of as reliably liberal, but fewer than half the voters there are registered Democrats. It encompasses the Westside, South Bay and part of the San Fernando Valley.
"The chief complaint of voters in our district - and across the country - is the gridlock in Washington, the dysfunction, the inability to come together on the most basic issues and lead the country forward," he said Tuesday night.
Carr raised $1.3 million - nearly all from individual contributors; Lieu raised $1.8 million.
VENTURA - 26th Congressional district
In one of the most hotly contested races in the country, Brownley, a freshman, won 63,811 votes to Gorell's 62,051, a margin too close to call. Both fought for voters in the middle: Gorell, a Republican Assemblyman, is pro-choice and supports immigration reform.
He had drawn national support from GOP stalwarts including Speaker John Boehner and the Koch Brothers political action committee - which bought TV ads on his behalf. He raised just over $1 million.
Former President Bill Clinton flew out to campaign for Brownley, who raised $2.8 million, and got additional support from the House Majority PAC and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
The Ventura County district includes a Navy air base in Oxnard and both candidates had touted their military credentials during the campaign: Brownley sits on the Veterans Affairs Committee; Gorell served with the Navy in Afghanistan.
SAN BERNARDINO - 31st Congressional district
The Inland Empire's 31st Congressional District, currently held by a Republican, is one of several in Southern California that bucked the national trend toward GOP victories.
With 100 percent of the precincts reporting, Democrat Pete Aguilar declared victory with a 2 percent lead — 51 percent of the vote to 49 percent — over Republican businessman Paul Chabot in the 31st, which covers about one-third of San Bernardino's population. It stretches from Rancho Cucamonga, through San Bernardino and Redlands. Results are still preliminary, but Chabot trails 1,635 votes.
Aguilar said the biggest difficulty of the race was the primary crowded with other Democrats.
"Obviously, when we drew this up, having to spend $1 million to get through a primary was not what we had intended, but that's the way it worked, and we did everything we could to survive and advance," Aguilar said.
Republican businessman Gary Miller currently holds the seat; Miller announced his retirement this year after district lines were redrawn to include more Latinos and Democrats, making it harder for Miller to win re-election.
The Democratic Party had identified the 31st District as a high priority last year, throwing support behind Aguilar long before the primary to avoid a repeat of the 2012 election — when a Democrat didn't make it to the general election.
Aguilar had placed third in the 2012 primary, atop a crowded field of Democratic candidates, opening the door for Miller and another Republican to face off in the general election.
Aguilar's committee collected $1.9 million over the campaign, including $1.3 million in individual contributions. Chabot pulled in just about $428,000 ($185,000 in individual corporations), according to federal campaign finance reports filed through Oct. 15.
Outside groups spent at least $1.85 million supporting or opposing the two finalists. More than $524,000 was put in support of Aguilar and $1.28 million against Chabot. About $44,000 was spent by independent groups against Aguilar in the primary, but none in the general.
Chabot got some help from a mailing by the National Rifle Association.
Aguilar, a former credit union government relations manager, said he would be interested in serving on congressional committees dealing with banking and finance, homeownership or transportation.
"It's not lost on me how people and communities are still struggling ,and I'll do everything I can to work hard to deliver for the Inland Empire," Aguilar said.
In Palm Springs, Democrat and emergency room doctor Raul Ruiz defeated his Republican challenger, Assemblyman Brian Nestande, with 53 to 47 percent of the vote, respectively.
Nestande had campaigned on dismantling the Affordable Care Act.
— Sharon McNary with Kitty Felde
Lots of new faces
Lieu won't be the only new face in Washington.
Among new members of the California delegation for the 114th Congress: Democrat Norma Torres will be representing Ontario, taking the seat vacated by fellow Democrat Gloria Negrete McLeod to serve on the county Board of Supervisors.
Republican Mimi Walters will be Irvine's new member of Congress, replacing retiring GOP Congressman John Campbell.
Correction: An earlier version of this story called the race between Julia Brownley and Jeff Gorell in Ventura County, but the results are too close to predict a final outcome. Details in the race between Pete Aguilar and Paul Chabot have also been corrected, as well as a clarification in the amounts raised in those campaigns.
This story has been updated.