NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — On a recent Friday morning, Dana Rohrabacher, the colorful Republican congressman who has represented a ritzy sliver of Southern California coastline for nearly 30 years, slipped quietly onto the green, lakefront grounds of the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce in a blue blazer, blue baseball cap and blue Tommy Bahama-style shirt to accept the Chamber’s “Spirit of Enterprise” award.
The crowd was genteel: Orange County executives in suits, shades and heels. The applause was polite. Yet as Rohrabacher, 70, name-checked his old boss Ronald Reagan and praised America’s “spirit of unity,” a dozen progressive protesters on the other side of the lake began to wave signs and shout.
“PUTIN’S FAVORITE PUPPET,” one sign read.
“The smell of treason is in the air,” read another.
“There are two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,” read a third, quoting House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, one of Rohrabacher’s fellow California Republicans.
“Hey Dana, what do you say?” the activists chanted. “How many rubles did you get today!”
Finally, Rohrabacher had had enough. “I’m sorry those people there believe they have the right to disrupt other people’s rights to assemble,” he snapped, gesturing across the water. “I’ll try to speak very loudly.”
For decades, Rohrabacher has effectively drowned out the opposition, outspending each of his rivals by hundreds of thousands of dollars — and winning reelection 14 times by an average margin of 22 percentage points.
But those days may be coming to an end. As Rohrabacher addressed his Chamber of Commerce friends, stem-cell researcher and self-described “serial entrepreneur” Hans Keirstead — one of seven local Democrats running against Rohrabacher in 2018 — was a mile…