California Democrats fret if blue wall can stem feared red wave

When it comes to national politics, California is the only state truly indispensable to Democrats.

Any shot at the presidency begins with her 54 electoral votes, a full fifth of the number needed to win the White House.

Countless candidates come every year to make untold millions from the rich campaign money flowing through Hollywood, Silicon Valley and the hilltop mansions of San Francisco.

And it’s California where Democrats are turning again, hoping to salvage their control of the House by a fingernail, or at least minimize their Nov. 8 losses. Republicans need to flip just five seats nationwide to take control and retire Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

California has by far the most seats in the House of Representatives of any state, 52. Most incumbents are running for re-election. But there are 10 house races that are at least reasonably competitive. With three weeks to go until Election Day and early voting underway, a handful look like they could go either way.

Barring the unexpected, the outcome is unlikely to rank high on the political Richter scale. “I could see both parties gaining a few seats,” said David Wasserman, a senior campaign analyst for the bipartisan Cook Political Report with Amy Walter.

It is a mistake to predict election results. (Stop looking at me like that.)

But there is an unmistakable air of concern, if not panic, emanating from Democrats, who have long viewed California as a breakwater should a feared Republican wave sweep the country.

A trio of new GOP lawmakers — Michelle Steel and Young Kim in Orange County and Mike Garcia in northern Los Angeles County — all appear in better shape than earlier in the election cycle, thanks in large part to a spate of publicity funded by outside groups .

Garcia, who defeated Democrat Christy Smith in 2020 by just 333 votes, has been a top target for the party since he went all out on Trump in a district made even more Democratic by redistribution. But Democrats recently withdrew their spending on the race, leaving Smith largely to fend for himself in a rematch against Garcia.

“The #1 factor here is money,” Tom Persico, executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told Politico about the fight to catch up with Republicans dollar for dollar.

Strategists from both parties agree that the most competitive race in California, and the seat most likely to change hands, is in the San Joaquin Valley, where Republican Rep. David Valadao versus Democratic State Assemblyman Rudy Salas Jr. fights

Valadao, who broke with most in the GOP to support President Trump’s impeachment, was ousted in the year of the 2018 Democratic Wave but reclaimed his congressional seat in 2020. Democrats enjoy a significant registration advantage in the 22nd congressional district and boast a candidate in Salas they have been seeking for years.

But Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, of nearby Bakersfield, is personally close to Valadao and has made saving his seat a priority. The national party and its allies have spent accordingly.

Both sides agree that the other toss-up in the state appears to be the race for a vacant seat in the Central Valley, representing a new district, the 13th, bordering the Bay Area’s edge. Republican John Duarte, a farmer and family farm owner, faces Democratic Assembly member Adam Gray.

Previous wave years have produced mixed results in California.

In 1994, Republicans won 54 seats nationwide and regained control of the House of Representatives for the first time in over 40 years. This included a pickup truck with four California seats.

In contrast, the Republicans won 63 seats statewide in 2010, but zero in California, a result of the incumbent protection card the two parties held when redefining policies after the 2000 census.

Spurred in part by this act of naked self-interest, voters took the map-making process off the shoulders of politicians and turned it over to an independent commission that helped produce today’s array of contests.

California prides itself on being a special place. But in truth it moves to many of the same political rhythms as elsewhere.

Democrats hope the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade and a ballot measure, Proposition 1, that enshrines abortion rights in the state constitution will increase voter turnout among Democratic-leaning women and younger voters.

Republicans want to center the election on crime and inflation; The latter isn’t difficult with staggering prices at the pump and in grocery stores.

Although the issue of abortion is abstract to some, “Democrats run the risk of being blamed for significant everyday issues that voters either experience or see on their TV,” said Nathan Gonzales, another top campaign analyst and editor of the bipartisan magazine Political Inside Elections Guide.

History does not offer high hopes for the Democrats.

For well over a century and a half, the party that controls the White House has typically lost congressional seats in midterm elections. Since the end of World War II, the average has been 27 seats in the House of Representatives.

California is unlikely to save the Democratic majority. But the results here could mean the difference between bad and worse for House Democrats and a party leader, Pelosi, who calls the state home. California Democrats fret if blue wall can stem feared red wave

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