LOS ANGELES — California Democrats appear to have gained the upper hand in an overhaul of the state’s congressional districts, with borders that could tighten their grip on delegation and play into the fight for control of the U.S. House the next year.
Still, the new maps left a slew of competitive seats that make California something of an exception in a deeply divided political nation: Even though it’s a Democratic stronghold, the new maps suggest Republicans could reserve surprises.
Democrats are defending a shaky eight-seat House majority in midterm elections, as the party that controls the White House typically loses seats in Congress and President Joe Biden’s approval ratings have been shaky .
Redistricting battles have unfolded across the country as Democrats and Republicans seek an edge in future elections. The Justice Department recently sued Texas over its new redistricting maps, saying the plans discriminated against Latinos and other minority voters.
While California loses a seat for the first time in its history because the population of other states is growing faster, Texas, Florida, Colorado and North Carolina are among the states gaining seats.
An analysis by Sacramento research firm Redistricting Partners found that 44 of California House‘s new districts would have been carried by Democratic Gov. Gavin Newson in his 2018 election, and 45 of the districts tilted toward then-candidate Biden. in the 2020 presidential race.
It’s an encouraging sign for Democrats, who hope to gain ground in California in 2022 after ceding four House seats to Republicans in 2020. Democrats hold 42 of the state’s 53-seat delegation – the largest delegation from afar in Congress.
The revised lines were approved Monday by the California Citizens Redistricting Commission, which has been tasked with drawing new districts to account for population changes, a requirement that occurs once a decade. Each district must represent 760,000 people.
Republican National Committee spokeswoman Hallie Balch said the panel created “walking districts” for most Democrats.
“The California redistricting committee has completely lost track of who resides in the districts they drew,” Balch said in a statement. “These lines are a disappointing end to a long-running battle for representation.”
Rep. Mike Garcia, a Republican who has seen his North Los Angeles district stripped of the Republican-rich Simi Valley community, said: “The commission has shown that it is not acting independently when it has pulled all Democratic incumbents into safer seats while making five of the 11 Republican districts more vulnerable.
“I know we will win in this new neighborhood regardless,” Garcia wrote on Twitter.
First-term Democratic Rep. Sara Jacobs announced Tuesday that she will seek re-election in the new 51st District next year, while Rep. Darrell Issa, a Republican, said he would run for re-election in the new 48th district.
San Diego County’s 51st District includes portions of the two Representatives’ current districts.
The redrawing of district boundaries has already led to changes in delegation.
Longtime California Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard, the first Mexican-American woman elected to Congress, announced Monday that she will not seek re-election in her Los Angeles-area district. The 80-year-old Democratic congresswoman’s decision came as her district was largely dismantled by the commission.
The shifting of district boundaries appears to have played a role in other departures from the House. Among them: Republican Representative Devin Nunes, who was one of former President Donald Trump’s most ardent loyalists in Congress, is leaving the House at the end of this year to join Trump’s fledgling media company, and the Democratic Representative Alan Lowenthal, who represents a district anchored in Long Beach, south of Los Angeles, announced that he would retire at the end of his term.
The ripple effects continue and some candidates in key races may move to neighboring districts in search of a more favorable political climate. Republican U.S. Representatives Young Kim and Michelle Steel, who won all or part of the Democratic seats in Orange County in 2020, have yet to announce their plans.
However, the changing lines had little effect on the state’s brand names in the House. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco-based majority Democratic district remained majority Democratic. Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy’s Bakersfield-rooted district has become more solidly Republican in the new maps.
While most of the attention has focused on California’s loss of a congressional seat, analysts said the legislative maps drawn for 40 state senators and 80 assembly members from state were scoring big victories for the Democrats.
The maps essentially lock in Democratic supermajorities for the next 10 years, said Rob Pyers, research director of the nonpartisan California Target Book, which follows the redistricting closely.
Republicans have been on the verge of irrelevance in this heavily Democratic state for years, and Democrats control all state offices and dominate the Legislature and congressional delegations. Republicans make up less than a quarter of registered voters and have lost support in what were once Republican-leaning suburbs, said Mitchell of Redistricting Partners.
The new lines will have a “chilling effect” on Republican hopes of gaining ground in the Legislature, Mitchell said.
The new lines also recognize the growing diversity of the state.
Mitchell said Latinos, California’s largest racial or ethnic group, now represent majorities in 16 House districts. Three districts group together areas with large Asian populations and two do the same for communities with large numbers of black residents.
The boundaries of the Fresno-area districts represented by Democratic Representative Jim Costa and Republican Representatives David Valadao and Devin Nunes have changed significantly. Costa announced on Tuesday that he would run in the new 21st District, rooted in the Central Valley.
Associated Press writer Don Thompson in Sacramento contributed.
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