‘Path to 218 runs through California’: State races are crucial in the battle for control of the House of Representatives

(Jim Cooke/Los Angeles Times)

Path to 218 runs through California: State races are crucial in the battle for control of the House

Elections 2024, California politics, homepage news

Julia Wick

March 10, 2024

Barring divine intervention or the West Coast falling into the sea, President Biden will easily win California in the November election.

But should he or presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump secure a second term in the fall, the future of either party’s policy agenda will depend heavily on which party controls Congress, where Republicans currently hold a razor-thin majority in the U.S. House of Representatives to have.

With the Golden State home to some of the most contentious swing districts in the country, the fate of the House will almost certainly come down to California.

The battle for the next two years of partisan political control will be waged door to door, from the beachside cul-de-sacs of California to the small farming towns of the state’s fertile Central Valley.

Those battlefields will look a lot like Bridgecreek Plaza, a sun-drenched shopping center a few hundred yards from a freeway ramp in Orange County’s Huntington Beach. The mall is home to a crystal store, several insurance brokers, a dentist, and the local headquarters of the Republican Party.

It’s also where about two dozen Republican faithful gathered on the morning of Election Day, bowing their heads for a quick prayer and pledging allegiance to a portable flag before turning their attention to Jessica Millan Patterson, chair of the Republican Party of California.

Patterson was in a very good mood.

When she was first elected to lead the party in 2019, California Republicans were essentially the third-largest party in the state, and had fallen below the number of voters who registered refusing to elect under party preference.

But Patterson had predicted a boom in voter registration over the past five years, and the party had returned to second place. People across the country were eager to reject blue California, she said, but they forgot that California has more registered Republicans than any other state.

California Republicans are the reason we have a majority in the House of Representatives, she added, to loud cheers.

Hoping to hold on to that majority, the group would spend the morning of the March 5 primary seeking out Scott Baugh, a Republican lawyer and former member of the state Assembly who defeated Democratic Rep. -open conference chair backrest from blue to red.

The latest round of redistricting brought more conservative enclaves like Huntington Beach and Newport Beach into California’s 47th Congressional District, and Baugh only narrowly lost to Porter in 2022 despite spending a lot of money, making the coastal area of ​​Orange County one of the became the most competitive districts in the country. .

The charismatic Porter will disappear from the House of Representatives after a failed election in the Senate; her seat is one of three offensive targets of the National Republican Congressional Committee in California and has top priorities. And it is equally appreciated by Democrats.

In a country where animosity and distrust separate the two major political parties on most issues, California’s paramount importance to any November House strategy is one of the few things Republicans and Democrats can agree on.

California is home to 10 races rated as competitive by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, including five in districts represented by Republicans but that President Biden won in 2020. In the coming months, both parties will invest significant resources in those races as national attention inevitably turns west.

With an expected rematch between Biden and Trump, voter turnout in 2024 is also likely to get a boost compared to the 2022 midterm elections. That could give Democrats an edge, given the registration advantage they have in many of the competitive districts . Republicans gained one seat in the California House in the 2022 midterm elections, a non-presidential election in which turnout was significantly lower than when Biden and Trump topped the ballot two years earlier.

Ultimately, the road to 218 runs through California, said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Dan Gottlieb, referring to the number of seats needed to gain a majority in the House of Representatives.

Gottlieb was optimistic about his parties’ chances, citing the high turnout expected for the presidential election, along with strong Democratic candidates and a bunch of dysfunctional and out-of-touch Republicans who are experiencing the worst of their parties’ chaos, dysfunction and extremism made possible.

But Gottlieb’s Republican counterpart was equally rosy in his view, with National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Ben Petersen revealing the ugly and expensive primaries that consumed Democrats in several of the state’s most crucial swing districts.

In the OC district where GOP volunteers dispersed to Baugh on primary morning, Democrats had sunk millions into a nail-biting primary battle between Sen. Dave Min and fellow Democrat Joanna Weiss. Min ultimately emerged victorious, but only after surviving a barrage of negative advertising focused on his 2023 arrest for drunken driving, perhaps a gift to Republicans ahead of his fall battle with Baugh.

Extreme Democrats are stumbling out of their vicious primaries, which have been fractured and defeated by Republicans, who saw a groundswell of support for a common-sense security and affordability agenda, Petersen said, adding that the primary results made clear that the Republican Party in California was offensive in some way. that would pave the way for victories in November.

However, Baugh is not expected to remain unscathed. In 2022, Porter’s ad campaign criticized the Republican for his anti-abortion stance, as well as his work as a lobbyist and criminal charges for campaign violations, for which he ultimately paid $47,000 in fines.

In the San Joaquin Valley, there were last-minute fears that a nail-biting primary would eliminate Democrats from one of the races in which they have the best chance of flipping a seat, but those concerns proved overblown.

Rudy Salas, backed by the Democratic establishment, defeated fellow Democrat Melissa Hurtado to secure a spot in the case against incumbent Rep. David Valadao (R-Hanford) in the 22nd Congressional District, but that race also took a hit in the Democratic treasury.

The November race will be a rematch of the 2022 run-off, when Salas lost to Valadao by several thousand votes. And Salas and Valadao won’t be the only rematch on the November ticket.

In a heavily agricultural district in the San Joaquin Valley that includes all of Merced County and parts of Fresno, Madera, San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties, incumbent Republican Rep. John Duarte will again face Democratic challenger Adam Gray. Duarte won the 13th Congressional District in the midterm elections by fewer than 600 votes, one of the closest races in the country.

A few hundred miles southeast, in Southern California, Democratic challenger Will Rollins will again face Republican incumbent Ken Calvert, the longest-serving member of the California delegation. The newly redrawn 41st Congressional District stretches from the suburban Inland Empire, where Calvert has long lived, to Palm Springs, where Rollins and his partner make their home.

The district’s new boundaries, which now include one of the largest concentrations of LGBTQ+ voters in the country and liberal pockets of Californians in the desert, are much friendlier to Democrats. They have also appointed Rollins, who is gay, as a strong challenger to Calvert, who has voted against LGBTQ+ rights in the past but says his views have evolved since then.

One race that will have some new blood this year, after the same pair of candidates battled each other in three previous elections, is California’s 27th Congressional District in northern Los Angeles County.

The district, once solidly Republican, has been remade through redistricting and has undergone a political transition driven by younger, more diverse LA transplants looking for affordable housing in Santa Clarita and the Antelope Valley. The district briefly switched from red to blue with the former victory of Rep. Katie Hills in 2018, but the young Democrats, very public scandals and eventual resignation, helped return the seat to the Republican party.

Now-incumbent Republican Rep. Mike Garcia defeated Democrat Christy Smith in a 2019 special election to fill the seat, and then twice more for full terms in 2020 and 2022. He will face George Whitesides, a new Democratic challenger, in November .

Ludovic Blain, executive director of the California Donor Table, a progressive group that pools donor funds, said his organization hopes to invest about $10 million in California House races this fall, working with local nonprofits in key areas to to become voters of color.

They will focus on seven key races: the three aforementioned rematches, Porter’s open seat and two other races in Orange County, and the matchup between Garcia and Whitesides.

One concern Blain raised is that Republican Steve Garvey’s place at the top of the ticket, facing Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank) in the Senate race, could impact Democrats in the House races.

Schiff implemented a controversial strategy in the primaries, encouraging Garvey to shut out Porter and his other major Democratic challenger, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland), who supported Blain’s organization.

It was a gamble that some in the Democratic establishment said would actually help Democrats in other tight races, because a less competitive Senate race would siphon far less money from the parties’ coffers.

But others, like Blain, argue that Garvey’s presence could hurt Democrats down the ballot. Moreover, having him on the ballot could attract moderate Republican and independent voters who remain sour on Trump.

Having Garvey will, I think, encourage or even encourage Republican voters to vote against the ticket, and more importantly, to vote against it, Blain said.

Patterson agreed. Unlike Trump, Garvey will likely campaign across the state, giving other Republicans a boost while he’s at it.


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