As the sun set behind rows of modest homes, Republican Matt Jacobs knocked on doors, urging voters in Oxnard to fire their incumbent Democratic congressman and vote for him to improve their quality of life.
“This community is very close to my heart,” Jacobs told Jacqueline Mercado, 28, adding that he was born and raised in Ventura County, a message he repeated in English and fluent Spanish in this predominantly Latino neighborhood . “I just think things can be better all around.”
With her 1-year-old daughter crawling around nearby, Mercado, a Democrat, nodded vigorously when Jacobs asked if the cost of groceries would burden her family. “Absolutely,” Mercado said before telling him she would be voting for him in Tuesday’s election.
“I just want someone to make everything better,” said Mercado, an employee of the state’s toll-free 211 system, which connects Californians to job training, after-school programs and other services. “Make things better, like inflation. This is really important because gas is crazy right now. Meal. All.”
Such paperback worries are one of the reasons Republicans say they feel good in blue regions like California’s 26th congressional district, which Joe Biden won by a margin of 20 points.
The GOP is favored to take control of the House of Representatives in Tuesday’s election, and voters like Mercado could make that happen or determine the size of their majority.
The midterm elections were set by Republicans arguing that Democrats are bad managers of the economy and their policies have led to rising crime, and Democrats warning that Republicans are going too extreme when it comes to abortion rights, threats to democracy and possible cuts in social security.
Based mostly in Ventura County with part of Los Angeles County, the 26th is likely a Republican reach. But the prospect of it being in the game suggests a vulnerability for Democrats in a number of counties in California and across the country that Biden has won by double digits.
“When California Democrats have a headache in California 26, they have the flu in a whole host of more competitive seats,” including contests in the Central Valley and Southern California, said David Wasserman, a congressional forecaster for the bipartisan Cook Political Report.
Democrat Julia Brownley has represented much of Ventura County in Congress since 2013. On Tuesday, Cook’s district was moved from “solid Democrat” to “lean Democrat,” basing its forecast on a poll showing a statistical dead heat between candidates and how much money is coming in.
The Cook Report also predicts increased competition in districts represented by Democrats Katie Porter of Irvine and Josh Harder of Turlock.
Many of these counties, in historically conservative bastions like Porter’s in Orange County, are now narrowly divided between Democratic and Republican voters, or are places where Democrats have a numerical advantage but have a Republican incumbent, like Rep. Mike Garcia of Santa Clarita and David Valadao of Hanford.
However, the 26th District does not fit into any of these categories. The incumbent is a Democrat, and although the district won conservative Simi Valley in the 2021 congressional redraw, Democrats still have a nearly 15 percentage point lead in voter registration.
Wasserman was among the forecasters who were skeptical when Brownley’s prospects were initially questioned.
“But the environment for Democrats has clearly deteriorated since then,” he said. “While she’s still a clear favorite, she’s not in as solid shape because the Republicans have a credible candidate and there’s still some ancestral Republican support in Ventura County.”
Inflation, gas prices, crime concerns and the lack of exciting national campaigns are a boon for Republicans, said Democratic strategist Andrew Acosta.
“All of this is a poisonous brew,” he said, adding that voters in districts like Brownley’s may be liberal on social issues but malleable on economic issues. “And we’re in a paperback election.”
GOP politicians represented the area in Congress for 70 years until Brownley won her seat in 2012. One in five district voters refuse to identify with any political party.
More than 20 House campaign committees and executive PACs contributed to Brownley and Jacobs over a three-day period in late October, making it the “premier House goal for Republicans and Democrats alike” for such efforts. According to the research director of the California Target Book, a nonpartisan guide that analyzes races in the state. A pro-Brownley outgroup recently raised half a million dollars.
GOP district redistribution expert Matt Rexroad said those moves, as well as President Biden’s appearance with Rep. Mike Levin Thursday in Oceanside, suggest several districts in California are competitive.
“Follow the money,” he said. “The fact that President Biden is coming to north San Diego and the fact that you are moving money to Brownley means there is something at stake.”
Brownley admits that “this is a tough choice”.
“It’s getting tighter across the country,” she said Hundreds of volunteers in a car park in Oxnard on a recent chilly morning. After posing for photos with the congresswoman, they were taken by bus to Calabasas and Agoura Hills to knock on doors.
Brownley said she was optimistic about her prospects because of her relationship with her constituents, as well as voters’ attitudes towards abortion, the environment and immigration.
“I never give up hope,” she said in an interview. “My values and the values of the district are aligned.”
Both candidates present themselves as moderate, but are clearly in line with their respective party base.
Jacobs, a former federal attorney who twice voted for President Trump, said the Supreme Court ruling ending federal abortion rights was constitutionally correct, but said he would not vote to ban abortion at the federal level. Although he said he supports abortion access In cases involving rape, incest and the health of the pregnant woman, Jacobs declined to say if he supports broader abortion rights.
Brownley portrays Jacobs as an extremist backed by Republicans who support a statewide ban and says California voters care about abortion rights across state lines.
“Women in California are smarter than that, and they’re fighting for every single woman across the country, not just women here,” Brownley said.
This message is personal to Terri Lisagor, a retired professor living in Camarillo. When she was in college, her roommate got pregnant and traveled to Mexico for an abortion.
Lisagor, 73, admitted she was worried about the Democrats’ prospects in this election.
“We’re getting smug — ‘Oh, sure, California is so blue, it doesn’t matter,'” she said just before promoting Brownley in Calabasas. “We need to keep harping on this and keep encouraging people to vote.”
Republicans have targeted similar congressional districts in states like Oregon, Connecticut, Rhode Island and New York that have supported Biden.
The Congressional Leadership Fund, a well-funded super-PAC allied with Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, has targeted 11 districts that Biden won by double digits. Five are in California, including the 13th District in the Central Valley.
The 13th district is a rare open seat contested by Democratic Rep. Adam Gray and Republican businessman John Duarte. Democrats have a 14-point voting advantage over Republicans in the heavily agricultural district; Biden underperformed there, winning by 11 points.
The district is one of five ranked toss-ups in California; six others are considered in play.
Democratic strategists have expressed concern about some of these districts but are skeptical about Brownley’s competitiveness.
Darry Sragow, a Democratic strategist and editor of the Target Book, described the increased focus on competition as either Republicans trying to get Democrats to spend money on the race or research suggesting it’s closer than it seems.
“Most of the time in a race like this the numbers hold and Brownley would hold the seat,” he said. “But every once in a while, a challenger with a recipe for the special sauce will show up and cause a stir.”
https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2022-11-04/republicans-optimistic-about-california-congressional-district-biden-won-by-20-points GOP optimistic about districts that gave Biden big victories