Examining Competitive US House Races in California

Elections & Politics Policy Brief #93 | By: Ian Milden | September 6, 2023
Photo taken from: latimes.com

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Democrats lost their majority in the House of Representatives in the 2022 mid-term elections. However, the small size of the Republican majority leaves Democrats with a path to re-take the House majority. This brief will take an early look at some of the races in California, which has enough competitive races to affect the control of the House majority.

Analysis

Republicans shocked many pundits by only winning a four-seat majority in the House of Representatives during the midterm elections. While Democrats performed well nationally in 2022, there were several pickup opportunities for U.S. House seats that were missed during the 2022 campaign in California. If Democrats can successfully flip a few of these seats, then they have a good chance to re-take the House majority in 2024.

The seat that presents Democrats with the best pickup opportunity is held by John Duarte (R-CA) in the 13th district in the Central Valley. It was an open seat created during the redistricting process. Duarte is a moderate who won his seat in 2022 by less than 1,000 votes. Given that this was one of the closest races in the country last year, Democrats will likely put a lot of resources into flipping this district.

David Valadao in California’s 22nd District is also a vulnerable incumbent. His district is also in the Central Valley and south of Duarte’s. Valadao was initially elected in 2012, but he lost his seat in 2018 to TJ Cox. Valadao defeated Cox in 2020 after Cox became embroiled in a fraud scandal. Cox has since been indicted by federal prosecutors. State Representative Rudy Salas (D-CA) ran against Valadao in 2022, and Salas lost by about 3,000 votes.

Mike Garcia (R-CA) represents California’s 27th district in southern California. Garcia won his seat in a special election, which was held when Katie Hill (D-CA) resigned from Congress. Garcia won re-election in 2022 against the same challenger. Democrats within the district thought that Garcia could be defeated, but they needed more financial resources from outside groups since this is an expensive district to campaign in.

Ken Calvert (R-CA) currently represents the 41st district, which should be a competitive seat on paper, but Calvert has been reelected every year since 1992. Calvert won in 2022 by about 11,000 votes. Calvert has had some close races, so this race could be competitive if Democrats find the right candidate and put in substantial resources.

Young Kim (R-CA) and Michelle Steel (R-CA) represent two districts (the 40th and 45th districts respectively) that are part of the competitive Orange County area. Democrats won slightly different versions of these seats in 2018 but then lost them to Congresswoman Kim and Congresswoman Steel in 2020. The 47th district, which is currently represented by Katie Porter (D-CA), is another Orange County district that will be competitive this year, especially since Porter is vacating the seat to run for the U.S. Senate. Defending the open seat will likely be the greater priority for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee given that the 47th district is easier for Democrats to retain than trying to retake the 40th and 45th districts.

While it is unlikely for Democrats to win all of the competitive seats I mentioned in this brief, if they can flip two or three seats in California and hold the open seat in the 47th district, then Democrats stand a very good chance of retaking the House majority if things go well for the party in other states.

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