UPDATE: Brownley declares victory in Ventura's 26th Congressional District

Brownley declares victory in tight Congressional race
Brownley declares victory in tight Congressional race
Kitty Felde/KPCC

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Freshman Democratic Congresswoman Julia Brownley has doubled her lead over Republican challenger Jeff Gorell; she's now ahead by 2,370 votes.

In Ventura County, she's up by 2,687; in the handful of precincts of the 26th Congressional District in Los Angeles County, she's down by 317 votes. That was enough for Brownley to declare victory Wednesday afternoon. 

Standing in front of the U.S. Capitol, Brownley said she had a "healthy lead" over her challenger. She said after representing Ventura for the last two years, "and wanting so much to continue to do that, I think the stakes were a little bit higher this time around."

Brownley won her seat two years ago by fewer than 10,000 votes in a district that's almost evenly split between registered Republicans, Democrats, and voters  who decline to pick a party. She sits on the Veterans' Affairs Committee.

Her challenger Jeff Gorell has not conceded. In a Facebook message, Gorell said "while the trend is not promising, we will not be making any decisions as to the outcome of this race until the final absentee ballots are counted." 

There are still more than 15,000 votes countywide in Ventura County and 144,000 in Los Angeles County yet to be counted. There are no breakdowns on how many of those mail-in and provisional ballots are in the 26th district, but Brownley said Wednesday she's confident of victory.

Gorrell ran as a pro-choice moderate who supports comprehensive immigration reform. As an Assemblyman, he already represented voters in Oxnard, Camarillo, and Thousand Oaks. But the congressional district included Ventura, the largest city in the area, a city he did not represent in the state legislature.

Brownley outraised Gorell nearly three to one, plus got help from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the House Majority PAC. Gorell got an assist from TV ads purchased by the Koch brothers' PAC,  the American Future Fund, and a  fundraising appearance by John Boehner.

The outcome of the Brownley race played out similarly in another Southern California Congressional district.

In San Diego, Freshman incumbent Scott Peters (D-San Diego) is ahead of GOP challenger Carl DeMaio by nearly 6,000 votes in the 52nd Congressional District. DeMaio, another moderate Republican, is a former San Diego city councilman. He narrowly lost a race for mayor two years ago.

That congressional race was controversial.

A former staffer accused the openly-gay DeMaio of sexual harassment and said he was offered $50,000 to keep his mouth shut. DeMaio called the charges a “false smear,” but the accusations appear to have eroded DeMaio’s conservative Republican base.

The San Diego U-T says it was Peters’ campaign manager who tipped off police about the allegations. A DeMaio spokesman says the campaign office was also burgled, with mailers and information about negative campaign plans stolen.

DeMaio conceded defeat Sunday night, saying he remains "committed to challenging the Republican Party to become more inclusive and more positive in its efforts to build a governing majority."

In Central California, a Democratic incumbent is clinging to a slim lead.

Longtime Fresno Congressional Democratic Jim Costa has an 86 vote lead over GOP challenger Johnny Tacherra in a district that spans three counties. Until Fresno County updated its numbers Wednesday night, Costa had been losing by nearly 800 votes. The numbers could change again: Fresno still has 600 vote-by-mail ballots and more than 10,000 provisional ballots yet to count; Madera and Merced Counties say they won't finish their count until Friday or early next week.

The tight Fresno race was a surprise. Unlike the contests in Sacramento, Ventura, and San Diego which attracted visits from Bill Clinton and John Boehner, and big dollars from national parties and political action committees, the Fresno race was thought to be a shoe-in for Costa.

Challenger Johnny Tacherra, a dairy farmer, ran a lean campaign: He had one paid staffer and a pair of political consultants, according to the Fresno Bee.

Four years ago, Costa was in another tough race.  That time he was also behind on election night, but mail-in and provisional ballots gave him the victory. 

Republicans are hanging on to a slim lead in Sacramento, where Republican challenger Doug Ose is still leading freshman Democrat Ami Bera by 530 votes with at least 33,000 mail-in and provisional ballots left to count.

Alice Jarboe, the assistant registrar of voters for Sacramento County said each of those provisional ballots have to be inspected by hand.

"It’s a slow process, she said. 

Bera is a medical doctor who ran care management for seven Northern California hospitals and taught medicine at the University of California Davis.

Ose is no rookie: he represented the Sacramento area from 1999-2005. When he was first elected to Congress, Ose promised to serve three consecutive terms and return to private life. Now, he's back. 

It's been two decades since a Congressional Democratic incumbent lost to a Republican in California in a non-redistricting year.

County elections officials must report their final results to the Secretary of State by December 5th. The Secretary of State will certify the results of the election by December 12th.

This story has been updated to reflect new vote totals in the Central Valley's 16th Congressional District.