Your guide to California's Congressional District 45 race: Rep. Michelle Steel faces 4 challengers


  • Michelle Steel, Republican, incumbent.

Steel was born in Seoul and raised in South Korea, Japan and the United States.

She’s been active for years in GOP politics, serving on the state Board of Equalization for eight years before being elected to the Orange County Board of Supervisors in 2014. She won a seat in Congress in 2020 to become one of the first three Korean American women elected to the House.

In Congress, Steel sponsored a bill known as the Deterrent Act, which would expand oversight and disclosure requirements related to foreign money and influence in higher education. The bill passed the House last year. She also sponsored the Hospital and ASC Price Transparency Act, which would require hospitals to publish prices for at least 300 services in a way that’s easy for consumers to find.

  • Kim Nguyen-Penaloza, Democrat, Garden Grove councilmember.

Nguyen-Penaloza, who is the daughter of a Vietnamese refugee father and a Mexican immigrant mother, became the first Latina and the youngest politician to be elected to the Garden Grove City Council in 2016. She ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the Orange County Board of Supervisors in 2022. She works for a program manager at Blue Shield of California Promise Health Plan.

Nguyen-Penaloza has been endorsed by the California Democratic Party. She says on her campaign website that she will “work to restore integrity and accountability to a broken Washington,” citing what she called her “proven record of bipartisanship” on the Garden Grove City Council. In an interview with the Daily Pilot, Nguyen-Penaloza said she strives to focus on housing, education and healthcare.

  • Derek Tran, Democrat, lawyer and workers’ rights advocate.

Tran, a worker’s rights attorney making his first run for elected office, said his background as the son of Vietnamese refugees and as an Army veteran makes him a good fit for the district.

Tran’s legislative priorities include protecting funding for Planned Parenthood and access to health services including birth control and cancer screenings. He supports maintaining Social Security and Medicare.

  • Cheyenne Hunt, Democrat, legislative policy analyst.

At 26, Hunt is the youngest candidate in the race and hopes to be the first Gen Z woman elected to Congress. The daughter of Syrian refugees is a lawyer with more than 90,000 followers on TikTok.

After earning a law degree from UC Irvine, Hunt served as a clerk for Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). Most recently, she worked at a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization, Public Citizen, as an advocate for Big Tech accountability.

Hunt’s legislative priorities include increasing oversight on large technology companies, making the economy work for everyone, preserving abortion rights and improving infrastructure, according to her campaign website.

  • Aditya Pai, Democrat, affordable housing attorney.

Pai is a lawyer and an immigrant from India who came to Southern California at 8 years old. His legislative priorities include ending corruption in Washington and tackling “the crisis of affordability in Orange County,” according to his social media.

“As our community emerges from a global pandemic, we ought to elect leaders whose vision is fixed firmly forward to brighter days ahead — not the petty squabbles of the past,” Pai said in a statement announcing his campaign.



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