Post-primary, there are nearly a dozen California races in play that could make a very significant difference in Congress next year. Democrats need to flip a few to make up for likely Republican gains elsewhere. I think they can pick up 3 or 4, although keep in mind, some of the likely winners are nearly as bad as Republicans. These are the districts to watch:
CA-03 (R+8) is a new district (no incumbent) along the border with Nevada and down into the suburbs north and east of Sacramento. Democratic doctor and physician Kermit Jones is up against twisted Trumpist crackpot and California-hater rightwing Assemblyman Kevin Kiley. McCarthy’s PAC just added $2.1 million in media reservations in the Sacramento market, presumably to help Kiley (and possibly to also use against Josh Harder in CA-09 to help Tom Patti in a district with a D+8 partisan lean).
CA-13 (D+7) is another open district (no incumbent) in the northern San Joaquin Valley (Merced County). Not only did the Democrats not nominate. Latino in this Hispanic district, they nominated one of the most corrupt conservative Democrats in the state legislature, Adam Gray. He’s fighting it out with John Durate, a wealthy right-wing businessman, infamous for ripping off family farmers by selling them diseased crops, who wrote his campaign a quarter million dollar check. McCarthy’s PAC just reserved $1.5 million to target Gray on top of the $200,000 they have already spent bolstering Durate.
CA-15 is an all-Democratic affair. The open district (Jackie Speier is retiring) south of San Francisco has a D+54 partisan lean and November will see a run-off between progressive Democrat and San Mateo County Supervisor David Canepa and establishment Democrat, Assemblyman Kevin Mullin. Polling shows Mullin, who led in the primary, way ahead.
CA-22, which has a D+10 partisan lean is something like CA-13— a really terrible corrupt right-wing Democrat from the state legislature, Rudy Salas battling mainstream conservative Republican incumbent David Valadao, a Trump enemy. This San Joaquin Valley district, predominantly Latino, is one of the lowest voter turnout districts in America. If Salas can turn out Democrats, he’ll win. And if you like Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema, Josh Gottheimer and garbage like that, you’ll love Salas—and Gray— who sell their votes to corporate special interests,
CA-23 is a tough district for a Democrat, but not quite as tough as it looks. The partisan lean is supposedly R+15 but thousands of Angelenos have moved out to more affordable Inland Empire communities since the pandemic and progressive Democrat Derek Marshall has one of the best field operations in California. He’s taking on Trump-enabler and Kevin McCarthy puppet Jay Obernolte. Blue America has endorsed Marshall and you can contribute to his campaign here. He has managed to keep pace with Obernolte in the fundraising department— around $650,000 each.
CA-27, in northern L.A county has become decidedly bluer with the new districting maps and now has a D+8 partisan lean. Even as horrible a candidate as pretend Democrat Christy Smith should be able to beat GOP incumbent Mike Garcia, although if anyone could botch this, it’s Smith, who has lost to Garcia several times already. She’s really a pro-Choice Republican calling herself a Democrat and— though not as bad as Salas or Gray— she’ll be a terrible member of Congress.
CA-29 offers up another D vs D contest in a D+51 district, pitting progressive Angélica Dueñas against corrupt golfer and molester, Tony Cárdenas in the San Fernando Valley. In 2020 Angélica shocked the Democratic establishment— spending just $76,627 to Cárdenas’ $1,213,588, bringing in 91,524 votes to his 119,420. She’s far better known now— and so is his rape case— and she is hoping to end what she started last cycle. You can contribute to her campaign here.
CA-37 is Karen Bass’ district. She’ll be ending her time in Congress to become— hopefully— mayor of Los Angeles. The partisan lean is stupendous: D+72. We were all hoping Culver City’s progressive mayor, Daniel Lee, would replace her. Unfortunately, 2 conservatives, crypto-billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried and Israel lobby scumbag Mark Mellman had other ideas and the two of them coordinated independent expenditures smearing Daniel and pushing garden variety nothing Democrat Sydney Kamlager, who is almost sure to beat Jan Perry, another garden variety Democrat, in November.
And that takes us to 3 districts south of L.A. that are all flippable, to one extent or another. CA-40 has an R+4 PVI but is an anti-Trump, pro-Choice area and Democrat Asif Mahmood is working the angles against Republican freshman Young Kim. But Kim isn’t going down without a fight. She’s raised $6,171,065 and spent $5,227,445. Mahmood has raised $2,193,494 and spent close to a million. Kevin McCarthy’s SuperPAC has already spent $877,572 in the district without a peep from the DCCC yet.
If Trump-patsy Kevin Calvert doesn’t go down this time, it’ll be soon. His district went from R+13 (fairly safe) to an R+7 partisan lean (one blue wave away from a wipe-out). Will Rollins may be able to do it in November. So far, Calvert has raised $2,340,522 to Rollins’ $1,462,309.
But the most flippable of the Orange County districts is CA-45, which has a D+5 partisan lean and seems ready to replace Republican freshman Michelle Steel with Democrat Jay Chen. McCarthy’s PAC just added $1.1 million to his independent expenditure on her behalf. Each candidate has around $2 million on hand, although Steel has already spend $2.7 million. Nothing from the DCCC yet, but I expect they will start spending after Labor Day.
Yesterday around dawn the L.A. Times published a piece by Jasper Goodman, Facing voter backlash, California Republicans recalibrate their antiabortion stance, about how some of these Republicans are trying to save themselves now that the red wave is cancelled. Their anti-Choice extremism is going to bit them in their asses now. Right in their with far right sociopaths like Marjorie Traitor Greene, Gym Jordan, Mo Brooks, Louie Gohmert, Andy Biggs, Paul Gosar and Lauren Boebert, there were 7 Californians: Michelle Steel, Mike Garcia, David Valadao, Darrell Issa, Devin Nunes, David LaMalfa and Connie Conway were among the co-sponsors of a national abortion ban, H.R. 1011, the Life at Conception Act, which claims personhood from the moment of fertilization. In deep red districts like LaMalfa’s and Issa’s , that kind of nonsense can be weathered. But in districts like Garcia’s, Steel’s and Valadao’s? If their Democratic opponent’s handle it right, they are toast.
Goodman noted that “in the two months since the Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling overturned Roe vs. Wade, stripping away constitutional protections for abortion, the candidates have been noticeably quiet on the issue. Nationally, Republican candidates in tight races have appeared on the defensive, releasing ads downplaying their antiabortion stances. Instead of celebrating the monumental reversal of Roe vs. Wade, the GOP is trying to turn the focus elsewhere, even as Democrats aim to keep the spotlight fixed on it. ‘I think Republicans in California would like to pretend [the abortion issue] doesn’t exist,’ said Jodi Balma, a political science professor at Fullerton College who supports abortion rights.”
In the past, Steel, Garcia and Valadao have quietly backed an array of antiabortion efforts. All three signed onto a brief asking the Supreme Court to end federal protections for abortion and they each carry A+ ratings from Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, a politically powerful antiabortion group.
Steel, running for reelection in one of Southern California’s most closely watched races, signed onto the Life at Conception Act as a co-sponsor 16 months ago. Now, despite her support for the measure, she says discussions “surrounding a nationwide ban on abortion are purely hypothetical at this point.”
Polling has consistently found that most Americans support some restrictions on abortion but did not want Roe to be overturned. For decades, Republicans have used abortion as a potent galvanizing issue for their base, particularly religious conservatives. But after the Dobbs ruling, there are signs that Democrats are more motivated. A UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies pollreleased last week showed that 91% of California Democrats consider the issue important when deciding how to vote in congressional, state and local races.
“Dobbs has changed the reality of the abortion debate, and I don’t think everybody understands that yet,” Balma said.
After Roe was overturned in June, voters in conservative Kansas resoundingly rejected an effort to remove abortion protections from the state constitution. In four special House elections, Democrats this summer have gotten more of the vote than Joe Biden did in those districts in 2020, a sign that the pro-abortion rights energy may be lasting.
…In a statement the day the Supreme Court reversed the 1973 Roe ruling, Garcia said abortion is now an issue for the states and that the decision “will not change access to abortions” for Californians.
“If you are concerned over your abortion rights,” he said, “call your state assemblyman or senator as the law now falls under the guidance of Sacramento.”
His campaign, like those of most Republicans, is trying to keep the focus on the economy and inflation.
Asked about abortion, a spokesperson for Garcia, Ben Williamson, said economic issues are “at the forefront of” the lives of voters in his district. “Garcia will keep fighting for them on those issues— and voters will have their say on the issue of abortion at the state and local level, just as they should.”
But Democrats are seeking to make it hard for Republicans to sidestep the issue. The party has spent more than $57 million on television and digital ads mentioning abortion since the Dobbs ruling, according to the media tracking firm AdImpact, compared with just over $10 million for Republicans.
In California, Democrats are further highlighting the issue by backing Proposition 1, which would add language to the state constitution saying women have the “fundamental right to choose to have an abortion and their fundamental right to choose or refuse contraceptives.”
If Democrats are going to pull off a surprise in November and maintain control of the House, it will have to be with the help of voters in districts like Steel’s, which curves through a section of northern Orange and southern Los Angeles counties, and Garcia’s, in northern L.A. County.
White college-educated voters in suburbs like those will be key to determining the balance of power in November, said Mike Madrid, a Republican political consultant who co-founded the anti-Trump Lincoln Project. Nationwide, about two-thirds of college graduates say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, according to data from the Pew Research Center.
“Those communities have a very uneasy relationship with the Republican Party generally,” Madrid said. “They are still Republicans because they’re not Democrats. But these social issues have been really testing their ability to stay in the party.”
The number of registered Democrats in Orange County has increased by more than 4,100 since a draft of the landmark abortion decision was leaked in May— compared with a jump of just 946 for Republicans, according to data from the Orange County Registrar of Voters.
“When you touch something as fundamental as women’s bodily autonomy, that is going to drive out turnout,” said Jay Chen, Steel’s Democratic opponent, pointing to the results in Kansas. “The Republicans— Michelle Steel, in particular— they’ve overreached by sponsoring and pushing for the overturn of Roe vs. Wade and sponsoring things like the Life at Conception Act.”
Chen, a businessman and Navy Reserve intelligence officer, has frequently attacked Steel over the issue on social media, calling her position extreme.
Steel said she is “proud to support life,” with exceptions to abortion bans for rape, incest, and the health and life of the mother. Like many other Republicans, she portrayed Democrats as too permissive in allowing abortions late in pregnancy. House Democrats recently passed a bill that would allow states to place prohibitions on abortion after viability except in cases when a woman’s life or health are at risk. The measure has no chance of success in the Senate.
“Unlike my opponent, I don’t support the Democrats’ radical agenda of abortion on demand, or painful late-term abortions where we know the child can feel pain, nor do I support taxpayer-funded abortion,” Steel said. “I also believe we must protect women and ensure they understand all the resources they have in order to choose life.”
In the Central Valley, Valadao has come under fire from his Democratic opponent, Rudy Salas. The assemblyman called Valadao’s support for the Life at Conception Act “appalling.”
“We must prevent this bill from passing,” he said in a statement.
But the issue may play a less prominent role in Valadao’s district than it does in Orange and L.A. counties, said Thomas Holyoke, a political science professor at Fresno State University.
“I think that it’s going to be a little more muted in this district than, perhaps, in some,” he said, adding that economic issues and water are likely to be more important in the agriculture-rich Central Valley. “It’s a Democratic-leaning district, no question about it, but it’s a lot of conservative Democrats.”
The challenge is greater for Garcia, whose northern L.A. County district has become more Democratic after redistricting. Former state Assemblywoman Christy Smith, who has lost to Garcia twice, hopes abortion will help make the difference this time around.
“With so much focus and momentum on the issue, with the fact that we will have a statewide ballot initiative to codify those protections in our state constitution, this is absolutely an issue that could really change the shape of this election,” she said.