Rep. Michelle Steel chats with a registered Republican voter through his front gate while canvassing for voters ahead of Tuesday's primary in Buena Park. Photo by Bing Guan for CalMatters
By DAN WALTERS, CalMatters
Democrats are targeting five Republican-held congressional seats in California this year. hoping that gains in the state could save their House majority.
Political handicappers almost universally expect that Democrats will lose their paper-thin majority in the House of Representatives this year.
However, if it’s closer than expected, what happens in a handful of California congressional districts could make the difference.
On paper, Democrats should make gains in California this year, perhaps as many as five seats, thanks largely to how an independent redistricting commission changed the state’s 52 congressional districts after the 2020 census.
Demographic changes, particularly increases in the state’s Latino population, and continued erosion of Republican voter registration meant that most of the 11 Republican-held districts wound up with smaller GOP voter shares.
That was bad news for Republicans who had barely won election or re-election in 2020, a year in which the GOP regained four of the seven seats it had lost in 2018.
Democrats’ most serious GOP targets are Michelle Steel and Young Kim in Orange County, Ken Calvert in Riverside County, Mike Garcia in the suburbs of northern Los Angeles County and David Valadao in Fresno and Tulare counties.
The district represented by Garcia, who won his seat in a 2020 election and then a full term later that year, has the most obvious effect of redistricting. To win and retain his seat, Garcia defeated Democrat Christy Smith twice, but only by 333 votes the second time.
The redistricting commission sliced some of the most Republican-leaning territory off Garcia’s district and as he faces Smith for a third time she enjoys an 11-percentage point Democratic voter registration advantage.
Former President Donald Trump’s polarizing effect is a factor in two of the targeted districts.
Calvert, a congressman for two decades, has been one of the former president’s most outspoken supporters in Congress and Democratic challenger Will Robbins is using that connection as a potentially decisive weapon in a district where voter registration is virtually tied.
Valadao, on the other hand, is one of 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump and one of only two on the ballot this fall. However, Valadao must defeat Democratic challenger Rudy Salas, a state Assembly member, in a district that now has 17-percentage-point Democratic registration margin.
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