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Democratic gains erasing House GOP in California

A slow-moving blue wave is on the verge of washing away the House Republicans’ California delegation — a once-strong faction of the GOP that rivaled the powerful Texas delegation.

Democrats have flipped four GOP seats in the Golden State thus far, while two other races in red districts are still too close to call.

If those both break in Democrats favor, California Republicans will see their ranks chopped nearly in half.

{mosads}The battle for California is seen as a proxy war between Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), both of whom are poised to lead their respective parties in the House next year.

The blue state has long been colored by red streaks in GOP strongholds like the affluent Orange County, but suburbs in the state — and all over the country — revolted against the party in the first midterm since President Trump’s election.

“California has been slipping away from us for a long, long time,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who chaired the House GOP’s campaign arm after Democrats won back the House in 2006, told The Hill. “It’s just a tough year.”

Rep. Jeff Denham (R) became the latest Republican to lose his seat Tuesday night, when The Associated Press declared Democrat Josh Harder as the victor in the contest to represent Denham’s Central Valley district.

If he had returned to Congress, Denham, a centrist who tried to force action on immigration earlier this year, was planning on seeking the top spot on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

The loss of Denham’s seat comes in addition to California Republicans Steve Knight and Dana Rohrabacher both being ousted last week. A Democrat also won the open seat being vacated by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.).

And Democratic congressional candidate Katie Porter recently pulled ahead in her battle against Rep. Mimi Walters (R-Calif.), while GOP candidate Young Kim is barely leading in the race to replace retiring Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.).

Even Rep. David Valadao’s (R-Calif.) race has unexpectedly tightened in recent days, though he is still 2,000 votes ahead.

If the GOP loses both Walters’s and Royce’s seats, the California delegation would go from 14 Republicans and 39 Democrats to just 8 Republicans and 45 Democrats.

Race results still trickled in as the GOP held its leadership elections Wednesday, where McCarthy easily won his bid to become minority leader.

But the victory comes at a grim time for the Bakersfield native, who will be losing a significant chunk of his California allies.

The GOP losses, meanwhile, will hand Pelosi an even larger majority — and potentially give her more loyal followers — as she seeks to secure the Speaker’s gavel, though not every incoming California Democrat has stated their position on Pelosi’s bid.

Some conservatives complained that Republicans decided to hold leadership elections before they even knew the results of all the races yet.

“This is happening too quickly,” said Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, before the leadership elections. “This to me seems rushed. We are proceeding without complete information.”

“That’s unfortunate,” he added. “I think it’s really hard to make an informed decision.”

Republican Party officials have long been aware of their electoral challenges in the Golden State, even opening up a field office in Southern California earlier this year to combat against the potential blue wave. The GOP was defending roughly a dozen vulnerable seats in the state alone.

McCarthy, meanwhile, had barnstormed every corner of the country, including his home state, where he campaigned and raised millions of dollars for current and future GOP colleagues — efforts that he highlighted this week as he ran for the top GOP slot.

“If anything, several of those members that are coming back probably owe their seats to Kevin McCarthy,” Cole said.

McCarthy was critical in holding the California delegation together during the tax-reform debate, but it’s unclear how the law — which wasn’t as popular as the GOP had hoped — actually impacted races in the state. A provision to limit the state and local tax deduction was not an easy sell in blue states like California, where the benefit is popular.

Rohrabacher, who lost, was the only Republican incumbent in the state who voted against the bill, but everyone else who lost or is at risk of losing their seat supported the measure.

Immigration, which emerged as a national issue on the campaign trail this year thanks to Trump, might have also played a significant role in some of the Republican losses.

The California GOP’s downfall began in 1994, when former Gov. Pete Wilson (R) pivoted to harsh rhetoric on immigration in order to save his reelection bid. Although Wilson won that race, he also outraged the state’s substantial Latino population, which until then had generally low participation numbers.

The aftermath of the 1994 race is so ingrained in Latino political culture that replicating the “Pete Wilson effect” has become a mainstay of community organizing in states with large Hispanic populations.

Before 1994, California Hispanics were thought of as a potential target for Republican campaigns — former President Reagan successfully campaigned with Hispanics even before his 1986 immigration amnesty bill.

Latino participation in Southern California and urban growth in Northern California expanded the Democrats’ centers of power among demographic minorities and progressives, leaving Republicans with rural areas and conservative bastions like Orange County.

Several rural districts, although still much more conservative than coastal areas, have large Latino populations, which have become more politically engaged and moved toward Democrats as Republican immigration rhetoric has become harsher.

This cycle, Democrats launched an unprecedented and early effort to mobilize Latino voters in states like California, releasing targeted ads in Spanish and deploying at least one Latino field staffer in more than two dozen districts.

Republicans expressed concern about the party trend in California, though emphasized it’s not impossible to reclaim some of those seats.

“It’s going to be very blue for a while,” Cole admitted. “But look, there’s a lot of these seats that we are losing very narrowly. … I think there are several of these we can win back.”

Rafael Bernal and Scott Wong contributed.

Tags Dana Rohrabacher Darrell Issa David Valadao Donald Trump Ed Royce Jeff Denham Kevin McCarthy Mimi Walters Nancy Pelosi Scott Perry Steve Knight Tom Cole
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