The GOP toppled 4 seats at California House with a diverse slate of candidates

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It had been more than two decades since a Republican seized a Democratic-held congressional district in California. This year, the Republicans took four.

The stunning victories have led California’s GOP leaders to speak of a comeback after years of teetering on the verge of insignificance in the heavily Democratic state. Even though President Donald Trump lost California in a historic landslide, Republicans believe their rebound in four districts they lost just two years ago shows a way forward – one that focuses on the recruitment of diverse candidates; and the continuing dissatisfaction of voters with California.

As much of the country fought for Trump, winning GOP candidates complained about high state taxes, skyrocketing crime rates, homelessness and aggressive restrictions on coronaviruses. The list of candidates was surprisingly diverse for a party that remains predominantly white: two South Korean immigrants, two women, and two male sons of immigrant parents from Mexico and Portugal.

To be sure, the GOP has a long way to go. The last time a Republican won a statewide race in California was 14 years ago, and Democrats gained an almost 2-to-1 advantage among registered voters over to the GOP. Yet California Republicans all too familiar with Election Day misery now see a pattern for making further inroads.

“We didn’t get here overnight and we don’t plan to fix things overnight. But I think it shows the turning point, ”said Jessica Millan Patterson, president of the GOP, a Hispanic who has focused on building a party that looks like California, where no demographic represents a majority.

The basis of the victories was to enlist diverse and talented candidates, but the party “won on problems, we won on ideas,” she said. “The Democrats didn’t want to talk about their record here in California, when you have the most homeless, the greatest poverty, the most people moving” to other states.

Two years ago, Republican state leaders admitted that the party had all but collapsed after Democrats won seven seats in the GOP House, including four in whole or in part in the former conservative stronghold. of Orange County.

The GOP’s victories in 2020 were among the results that indicated that many voters in the state – despite its reputation for liberal spirit and its Democratic-dominated legislature – are uncomfortable venturing too far. to the political left. Some Congressional Democrats blamed party losses in the United States on their inability to counter Republican attacks calling them “socialists” aligned with liberal extremes.

Voters rejected an organized, worker-backed attempt to partially dismantle the state’s decades-old cap on property taxes. An effort to restore affirmative action has been defeated. And Uber, Lyft and other app-based ridesharing and delivery services prevailed over unions with a proposal to keep drivers classified as independent contractors who can choose their hours of work, rather than employees who are theirs. affected.

All of these proposals were highlighted and opposed by the successful candidates for the GOP.

Yet there is no doubt that the state that is home to about 1 in 8 Americans remains a Democratic stronghold. President-elect Joe Biden defeated Trump by more than 5 million votes, while Democrats bolstered their overwhelming majority in the state Senate and maintained a qualified majority in the assembly.

Even with their victories, Republicans only hold 11 of 53 seats in the State House. And the newly won districts “remain incredibly vulnerable for Republicans in 2022,” Andy Orellana, spokesperson for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in a statement.

Democrats also convincingly held three of the seats snatched in 2018, including the Republican-leaning 45th District in the heart of Orange County, where rising Democratic star Representative Katie Porter took a 7-point victory. .

Still, Republicans have support as they look to 2022, when Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom is expected to run for another term. A seat in the US Senate will be on the ballot along with other statewide offices all held by Democrats.

Republicans see a target. Newsom is grappling with an economy battered by the virus, there is widespread discontent with the state’s changing COVID restrictions, and his credibility has been shaken: he broke state rules when he and his wife were caught having dinner with 10 other people at the toney French Laundry restaurant, sitting close together, without a mask. Newsom has repeatedly told Californians to stay home and wear masks.

“We have a real opportunity, I think, to win again across the state,” Patterson said.

Biden, despite his dominant victory in the State, lacked a tail in key House races.

In the 25th District north of Los Angeles, Republican Representative Mike Garcia claimed a 333-vote victory over Democrat Christy Smith while running as Trump’s Apostle in a district with a 7.5-point Democratic registration advantage . The son of a Mexican immigrant father, the former Navy fighter pilot won the seat in a special election in May after former Democratic Representative Katie Hill resigned.

In the strongly Democratic 21st District of the Central Valley, Republican David Valadao, a dairy farmer and son of Portuguese immigrants, has reclaimed the seat he lost in 2018 to Democratic Representative TJ Cox. Valadao had supported Trump but also stressed that he had broken with the White House, notably by criticizing the administration for family separations at the border.

Young Kim defeated Democratic Representative Gil Cisneros in a rematch in the Democrat-leaning 39th District, anchored in Orange County. A former state legislator, she was born in South Korea and raised in Guam.

In the Republican-leaning 48th Coastal District, it appears Board of Supervisors President Michelle Steel took advantage of unrest over the state’s coronavirus restrictions, an issue she highlighted in her campaign against Democratic Representative Harley Rouda. Huntington Beach, in the heart of the neighborhood, has been a hotbed of opposition to the rules.

Steel and Kim join Marilyn Strickland of Washington State as the first Korean American women elected to Congress.

Democrats sought to nationalize the races and pair GOP House candidates with Trump, while Republicans highlighted “the issues people cared about the most, which impacted their daily lives,” Sam said. Oh, who spearheaded Steel and Kim’s winning campaigns.

Rose Kapolczynski, a longtime consultant to former Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer, credited Republicans with recruiting suitable candidates. In Orange County, “voters saw a different face of the Republican Party in Steel and Kim,” she said. And it was a different year from 2018, when Trump was not on the ballot and many voters sent a message with their votes in the House, contributing to the Democratic rout.

Looking ahead, she warned that other Democrats in tightly divided districts could be vulnerable, but added that Republican victories were isolated and the GOP brand remains badly tarnished.

“When things go wrong, those responsible are blamed. And when there is a credible alternative, that presents the ingredients to get rid of the incumbents, ”she said.

But “whether Republicans can change their branding statewide and overcome the very damaging history that led them defeat after defeat at the state level, that’s an open question.”


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