A Republican congressman known for his outspoken support for Russian President Vladimir Putin narrowly lost his Orange County, Calif., seat after 15 terms, a defeat that helped Democrats further solidify their House majority.
Democrat Harley Rouda, a real estate executive, beat Rep. Dana Rohrabacher in one of the state’s most closely watched congressional races, the Associated Press projected on Saturday. Rohrabacher’s strong identification with President Trump and his unabashed support for Russia had made him ripe for a challenge in an affluent district that went for Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Rouda had 109,591 votes to Rohrabacher’s 101,081 votes, with 52 percent of the vote to the Republican’s 48 percent, according to the AP.
Democrats won the House majority on Tuesday and since then have picked up additional seats as ballots have been counted in about a dozen unresolved races.
Rohrabacher’s friendliness toward Russia has raised eyebrows over the years and became a focal point in the race. Referred to as “Putin’s favorite congressman,” the longtime Republican lawmaker has said that Putin beat him in a drunken arm-wrestling match in the early 1990s to decide who won the Cold War.
The FBI warned Rohrabacher in 2012 that Russian spies were actively trying to recruit him. In 2015, Rohrabacher met with a woman in Russia who was later charged in the United States with spying for Moscow, an indictment the lawmaker called “bogus.”
And he has expressed doubts about the intelligence community’s consensus that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.
In June 2016, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said there are “two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump.”
Rohrabacher has also made a number of controversial comments over the years. In May, he said it was acceptable for people to refuse to sell their homes to gay men and lesbians if they “don’t agree with their lifestyle.” The remark prompted the National Association of Realtors to withdraw its support for his campaign.