Dems poised for key California gains in bid to retake House

Dems poised for key California gains in bid to retake House

Democrats appear likely to advance candidates in crucial California House districts, in the process avoiding any shutouts and raising the party’s chances of winning the House majority in the fall.

Six competitive races have yet to be called as of Wednesday afternoon, but Democrats are poised to appear on the November ballot in all districts that Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonClintons, Stacey Abrams meeting Texas Democrats Biden says Russia spreading misinformation ahead of 2022 elections Highest-ranking GOP assemblyman in WI against another audit of 2020 vote MORE carried in 2016.

Republicans saw good news as well — their top House candidates cruised ahead in most key races and they avoided a shutout on the governor’s ballot that would have hurt turnout in House races.


With millions of votes still left to be counted, it’s unclear what Tuesday’s results say about enthusiasm on either side. But overall, Democrats got virtually all that they asked for from the first round of voting in a state pivotal to their strategy to flip 23 seats and take back the House.

“Democrats avoided catastrophe with the number of shutouts they were fearing,” said Rob Pyers, the research director of the California Target Book, a nonpartisan election handicapper.

“The heavy amounts of Democratic spending in the Orange County districts achieved their objectives and diminished the Republicans they were attacking."

Democrats feared shutouts in three districts, two of them represented by retiring GOP Reps. Ed RoyceEdward (Ed) Randall RoyceBottom line California was key factor in House GOP's 2020 success Top donor allegedly sold access to key politicians for millions in foreign cash: report MORE and Darrell IssaDarrell Edward IssaGOP leans into racial issues ahead of midterms 'I want to cry': House Republicans take emotional trip to the border Musicians, broadcasters battle in Congress over radio royalties MORE, and one held by GOP Rep. Dana RohrabacherDana Tyrone Rohrabacher'Blue wave' Democrats eye comebacks after losing reelection Former Rep. Rohrabacher says he took part in Jan. 6 march to Capitol but did not storm building On The Trail: The political losers of 2020 MORE, who advanced in his primary. But the party is virtually assured to have a nominee in all three.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the Royce seat is the only one where a shutout has been officially averted, as Democrat Gil Cisneros formally secured the second spot on the ballot. He will face off against Republican Young Kim, a former assemblywoman who was the top vote-getter in the primary.

Cisneros’s victory is a win for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), which backed his candidacy over Andy Thorburn's (D) in what turned into one of the uglier primaries in the state. The committee also proved successful in beating down two Republicans, spending $1.5 million to attack candidates who ultimately ended up in fifth and sixth place.

Cisneros, a veteran who won the lottery a few years ago, will be able to lean on his vast personal wealth as he looks to turn the seat blue.

Republicans are hopeful that this will be one of the districts where the November referendum on the gas tax will help them. Voters recalled a Democratic senator Tuesday solely for supporting the tax, so the GOP hopes the issue will again animate voters in the fall.

“I was just out there. Gas is approaching $5 a gallon,” National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Matt Gorman said Wednesday on Fox News. “That's going to be a harbinger for Republican enthusiasm as well in the fall.”

In California’s 48th District, Democrats are virtually guaranteed to send a Democrat to face off against Rohrabacher in one of the party’s top-targeted races, but it’s unclear whom.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Democratic businessman Harley Rouda holds a slim lead of just 73 votes over Democratic stem-cell researcher Hans Keirstead for that second slot. There are still tens of thousands of votes to be counted before a winner will be declared.

The DCCC waded in during the race’s final weeks to boost Rouda, adding him to its “Red to Blue” list and partnering with the campaign for a joint TV buy. But that move put the national party against the California Democratic Party, which endorsed Keirstead at its February convention.

Democrats are optimistic that the Rohrabacher race provides a top chance at flipping a seat. Clinton won the seat narrowly in 2016 and the ongoing special counsel investigation has resurfaced the incumbent’s support of Russia.

While both parties had feared a shutout in the race to replace Issa, those fears were avoided.

Republican Diane Harkey, a member of the State Board of Equalization, came in first place with a little over a quarter of the vote, securing a spot on the November ballot.

Democrats are set to lock up the second spot on the ballot, though the nominee remains unsettled. Environmental attorney Mike Levin is in second place with 17 percent of the vote, with nonprofit CEO Sara Jacobs not far behind.

The San Diego-area seat is a top target for Democrats in southern California given Clinton’s 7-point victory there in 2016.

In California’s 10th District, Democrat Josh Harder appears to have fended off Republican Ted Howze in an unexpectedly tight race for second place.

Harder was one of five Democrats running for GOP Rep. Jeff DenhamJeffrey (Jeff) John DenhamBottom line Bottom line Business groups breathe sigh of relief over prospect of divided government MORE’s seat. As results rolled in, it appeared that Howze could threaten to shut the party out of another competitive district. But with few votes left to count, Harder is holding steady in second place, giving Democrats a candidate in a district where Clinton won by 3 points.

There weren’t any real concerns about a shutout for Democrats looking to knock off GOP Rep. Steve Knight in the fall, where anti-homelessness activist Katie Hill (D) is poised to square off against him.

Hill leads Bryan Caforio, who lost to Knight by 6 points in 2016, by about 2 points. While the race hasn’t officially been called, Caforio essentially conceded in a statement.

Then there are two districts where Democrats chose the more liberal of the two candidates to carry the party’s banner in the fight to dethrone Republican incumbents.

Voters chose Democrat Katie Porter, a professor and protégé of Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenPelosi disputes Biden's power to forgive student loans Warren hits the airwaves for Newsom ahead of recall election Human rights can't be a sacrificial lamb for climate action MORE (D-Mass.), to face off against GOP Rep. Mimi Walters in November.

Porter defeated Democrat Dave Min, the establishment-backed candidate who had an endorsement from the state party and more than a dozen House lawmakers in California. But Porter had high-profile endorsers of her own: Warren, Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisHarris's bad polls trigger Democratic worries Why in the world are White House reporters being told to mask up again? Want to improve vaccine rates? Ask for this endorsement MORE (D-Calif.) and EMILY’s List, a group that aims to elect Democratic women who support abortion rights.

Porter’s primary victory is also a big win for candidates running on “Medicare for all,” since Min was the only Democratic candidate in the race who didn’t fully embrace single-payer health care.

And in the fight against embattled Rep. Duncan HunterDuncan HunterTrump denies Gaetz asked him for blanket pardon Gaetz, on the ropes, finds few friends in GOP Trust, transparency, and tithing is not enough to sustain democracy MORE (R), former Obama labor official Ammar Campa-Najjar has advanced to the general over the more moderate Democratic veteran Josh Butner.

Progressives are excited about both races — they believe Porter and Campa-Najjar’s unapologetically progressive stances will motivate the base and provide a strong contrast for voters looking for a fresh face.

But there’s a risk in both of these districts that moderate voters may balk at the candidates’ more liberal stances.

Overall, while analysts like Pyers said Tuesday was a good night for Democrats, he admitted that it’s tough to “extrapolate” any clear narrative about the battle for the House majority. Democrats had a good night, but the performance wasn’t enough to convince Pyers that a Democratic wave will wash ashore in California.

“Democrats may want to adjust their expectations that California holds the key to retaking the House in November,” he said.

“It's certainly possible that Democrats will be able to pick off a couple of GOP seats in California, but it also seems likely that they'll need to diversify their eggs across more than just the one basket.”