California will be a top House battleground in November, and some competitive races are beginning to take shape after the Super Tuesday primaries.
But a number of those contests remain unclear, with votes still being counted. Ballots postmarked by Election Day are still valid, which means close contests may not be decided for days or even weeks as clerks must wait for votes to arrive by mail. The state uses a top-two primary system, under which all candidates compete on the same ballot and the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, advance to the November general election.
Republicans are looking to win back the seven House seats they lost in California in 2018, but they could face tough headwinds this fall, particularly with President Donald Trump at the top of the ballot. Trump lost all seven of those districts in 2016, and the GOP hasn’t flipped a House seat in California since 1998, according to Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales.
Special election coming soon
The special election to replace former Democratic Rep. Katie Hill in the 25th District is still taking shape. Democratic Assemblywoman Christy Smith will head to a May 12 special election, but it’s not yet clear who her opponent will be.
With 68 percent of precincts reporting Wednesday, Smith led the primary field with 34 percent of the vote, according to The Associated Press. The AP has not yet declared which candidate will secure the second spot for May, but Navy veteran Mike Garcia, who had the backing of county Republican parties, was leading former GOP Rep. Steve Knight 27 percent to 18 percent. Knight held this seat for two terms before losing to Hill in 2018.
The 25th District also held a regular primary Tuesday for the full term. Smith, Garcia and Knight remained the top candidates in that race, but the AP has not yet determined which of them will advance to November.
Hillary Clinton carried the district by 7 points in 2016, and Inside Elections rates the race Likely Democratic.
Orange County battleground
Republicans are eyeing a comeback in Orange County, which was long considered a conservative bastion until Hillary Clinton won it in 2016 and Democrats flipped four House seats that fall wholly or partly in the county two years later.
Two of the Orange County matchups were effectively set before Tuesday, with two freshman Democrats each facing only one Republican opponent.
In the 39th District, Republican Young Kim, a former state assemblywoman and congressional aide, will once again take on Democratic Rep. Gil Cisneros. Kim was leading Cisneros, 51 percent to 44 percent, Wednesday evening with 98 percent of precincts reporting, according to the AP.
And in the 49th District, Republican Bryan Maryott, the mayor of San Juan Capistrano who ran unsuccessfully in the 2018 primary, will face Democratic incumbent Mike Levin.
Of the other two freshman Democrats from Orange County, one now knows his fall opponent, while the other is still waiting to see who she will face in November.
In the 48th District, Rep. Harley Rouda will face Republican Michelle Steel. Rouda trailed Steel by 659 votes when the AP called the race with 100 percent of precincts reporting. But the final result could take weeks to tabulate as the state processes mail-in votes and absentee ballots. Inside Elections rates the race Leans Democratic.
In the 45th District, the AP still has not determined who Rep. Katie Porter will face in the fall. Mission Viejo Councilman Greg Raths and Laguna Hills Mayor Don Sedgwick were vying for the second-place spot Wednesday evening. With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Raths was up, 19 percent to 14 percent. Inside Elections rates the 45th District race Likely Democratic.
Central Valley targets
Republicans are also targeting two freshman Democrats in the Central Valley: Rep. Josh Harder in the 10th District and Rep. TJ Cox in the 21st.
In the 21st District, former GOP Rep. David Valadao, whom Cox unseated in 2018, is back for a rematch. The former congressman appeared poised to finish first in the primary. With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Valadao was leading Cox, 53 percent to 36 percent, when the AP made the call Wednesday.
Clinton carried the 21st District by nearly 16 points in 2016. But the seat could be one of Republicans’ best pickup opportunities in the Golden State, given Valadao’s experience and negative headlines about Cox’s finances that have dogged his campaign. Inside Elections rates the race Tilts Democratic.
In the 10th District, Harder is set to face former Turlock City Councilmember Ted Howze, who ran for the seat in 2018 but narrowly missed a top-two spot. This time around, Howze has the endorsement of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Harder was leading Howze, 40 percent to 37 percent, when the AP called the race Wednesday. Inside Elections rates the general election Likely Democratic.