Democrat Christy Smith, Losing Ground, Blames Her Own Party

With Mike Garcia winning blue district again, she says she got ‘next to zero’ help.

The race for a hotly contested Los Angeles-area congressional district had not been called, but Democrat Christy Smith sensed she would end up on the losing end. And she felt there was a clear reason why.

“Our campaign got next to zero outside resources to fight this battle. In fact, I was fighting the institutional power of my own party from the outset of this race,” Smith said in a scathing series of remarks on Twitter.

With no help on the airwaves and little elsewhere from Democratic Party committees and PACs, she said, “we didn’t stand a chance.”

Smith is no different from scores of other candidates who believe victory would’ve been theirs if not for stingy support from Washington. But her unusually blunt remarks Sunday highlighted the stark turn of events in the campaign for California’s 27th District — a contest in which Democrats were expected to mount an all-out effort to oust incumbent Rep. Mike Garcia after he barely eked out a win two years earlier.

“This is a massive screw-up on their end,” said political consultant Brandon Zavala, who ran Smith’s 2020 campaign but did not work on this year’s race. “We’re looking here at a Biden plus-12 [district] that we’re about to hand to Republicans.”

The typical postelection second-guessing of spending decisions has sharpened with Democrats exceeding expectations in this midterm election. Instead of losing control of the House in a rout, the party nearly held the GOP to a draw, with Republicans probably now on track to have a bare-bones majority.

Now, it appears every spending decision in close races in California and across the country could have tipped the balance enough for Democrats to keep House control.

Veterans of past midterm elections cautioned that such armchair quarterbacking misses the whole picture of how parties decide where to devote resources.

“In hindsight in any election, the easiest thing to say is, ‘I wish I had done more of X,’ ” said Jesse Ferguson, a Democratic strategist and a former top official for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “The hardest thing is, ‘I would’ve done less of Y’ in order to pay for it.”

Smith’s woes underscored a particular challenge for candidates running in the Los Angeles media market, where reaching voters via television can be prohibitively expensive. In a year when Democrats were playing defense all across the country, the party opted to stay out of Los Angeles’ broadcast market entirely — a decision that reverberated through closely watched congressional races.

In Orange County, Democrat Jay Chen was outspent by roughly $5 million, according to AdImpact, a firm that tracks TV and digital ads, in his unsuccessful bid to unseat GOP Rep. Michelle Steel, who got millions of dollars of assistance from the House GOP campaign arm and allied outside groups. GOP Rep. Young Kim had around $500,000 more in advertising than her Democratic challenger, Asif Mahmood, whom she easily defeated.

Democratic Rep. Katie Porter, who remains locked in a close contest with Republican challenger Scott Baugh in Orange County, also got no advertising help from the House’s Democratic campaign committee, although her commanding fundraising meant she had plenty of funds to outspend her opponent.

In Riverside County, Will Rollins, the Democrat who challenged incumbent Republican Rep. Ken Calvert, had a slight advantage on-air, but his unexpectedly narrow loss made some allies wonder whether more party help could’ve made a difference.

“With greater investment from the party leadership, Democrats could have flipped the [seat]. We hope the close nature of this race leads to a meaningful investment in this district — and in breakthrough candidates like Will — moving forward,” the liberal nonprofit group Square One said in a statement.

The Rollins and Mahmood campaigns declined to comment about party spending decisions. A Chen spokesman praised the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for its help reaching the district’s multicultural voters, including with digital advertising in Vietnamese, Korean and Mandarin. “While the outcome in this race fell short of what we had hoped for, the DCCC … was an engaged partner,” spokesman Orrin Evans said.

Los Angeles was one of the most expensive media markets in the nation even before a flood of advertising for the city’s mayoral race and statewide gaming initiatives pushed prices higher.

Sheri Sadler, a veteran Democratic media buyer, said the market was so expensive that she didn’t place ads in L.A. for state controller candidate Malia Cohen. “You have to have a war chest in L.A.; that’s just the way it is,” Sadler said, adding that the effectiveness of broadcast ads is declining as viewing habits change.

“The prices keep going up and the ratings keep going down,” she said.

Drew Godinich, a Democratic strategist, said such costly media markets can “act as protective bubbles for incumbents.”

“For challenger candidates, it’s a high barrier to entry — the cost of first defining yourself positively, and then defining your opponent, is nearly prohibitively expensive,” said Godinich, who worked for the DCCC in California in 2018.

Nowhere was the party’s absence more acute than in the 27th Congressional District, which includes Santa Clarita, the Antelope Valley and parts of the San Fernando Valley. The once-solidly GOP region has grown more Democratic as Los Angeles residents moved there for affordable housing. Redistricting — the every-decade redrawing of congressional maps following the census — made the district even bluer by excising conservative Simi Valley.

Garcia handily beat Smith in a special election in 2020 and by just 333 votes for a full term later that year. In that election, Smith, along with the DCCC and House Majority PAC, which is affiliated with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), spent nearly $10 million.

Soon after winning reelection, Garcia joined 146 other House Republicans in objecting to the full counting of electoral college votes in January 2021 an effort to overturn Biden’s win in the presidential election. The vote came just hours after supporters of then-President Trump overran the Capitol on Jan. 6.

Garcia maintained a conservative voting record: He opposed impeaching Trump for his role in the insurrection, voted against citizenship for “Dreamers” and co-sponsored legislation that would have in effect banned abortions nationwide.

But he also worked on issues tailored to the district, particularly regarding military families and veterans — a potent issue in a region with deep ties to the armed forces and the aerospace industry. His ads highlighted his background as a former Navy fighter pilot and focused on fiscal issues such as lowering taxes.

Smith, in an interview, said she lacked the money to tell voters about his record, a message she believes could have tipped the race.

“Absolutely, it would have made a difference,” she said, adding she had gotten “hammered” by outside Republican groups’ TV ads.

With the possibility that the district would be “the tipping point to hold the House,” Smith said on Twitter, “the utter lack of investment made no sense.”

Smith also faulted national Democrats for recruiting former Navy intelligence officer John Quaye Quartey to run against her in the primary. (Quartey’s campaign declined to comment on the issue, as did the DCCC.) Smith said she and her allies had to spend heavily in the primary to defeat Quartey, who ultimately received single-digit support.

Garcia and GOP groups spent over $7 million on advertising between Labor Day and election day, while Smith spent less than $1 million; Democratic allies spent under $50,000 on digital ads, according to AdImpact.

This year, the House Majority PAC initially booked $3.3 million in television time in Los Angeles, but canceled it, as they did in other races around the country. A spokesman for the committee did not respond to a request for comment.

The DCCC never booked a dime. A spokeswoman said the committee faced unprecedented spending by Republican groups.

“We had to make tough calls and fully invest in the candidates we believed could not only get close, but win difficult races in California and nationwide,” said Maddy Mundy, a DCCC spokeswoman.

The National Republican Congressional Committee and the Congressional Leadership Fund, which spent heavily promoting Garcia, did not respond to requests for comment. Nor did Garcia’s campaign.

As of Tuesday evening, the race had not been called by the Associated Press. Republicans remained on the cusp of capturing the House majority, needing only one more win.

Garcia declared victory the day after the election and applauded Smith for “jumping in the ring again.”

While Smith has not conceded, she acknowledges that overcoming Garcia’s lead is unlikely. She said in an interview that she felt it was important to speak out before the race is called.

“I wanted to put the narrative out at a time when hopefully it didn’t seem like sour grapes,” Smith said. “Regardless of the outcome of this particular race, I still have a responsibility as a Democratic leader in the state to highlight areas where we could be doing better.”

Jacob Rubashkin, an analyst with Inside Elections, a nonpartisan campaign newsletter, said he was sympathetic to Smith, but he also recognized why national Democrats pulled back.

“You have to consider, any Democrat that’s losing any Democratic district, that is being won by a Republican despite Joe Biden carrying it by double digits, has to be considered a missed opportunity,” he said. “But I’m not surprised at all by this result.”

He said Smith’s history in the district explained the party’s decisions.

“I think Democrats took a look at 2020, when Joe Biden won the [district] by 11 points or so — they spent $10 million to support Christy Smith trying to beat Mike Garcia. Then she came up just short. Then they looked at how her campaign was going over the summer. And they triaged. They decided that the money was better spent elsewhere,” Rubashkin said.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

California Wins Leave GOP Poised to Seize US House Control

Two threatened U.S. House Republicans in California triumphed over Democratic challengers Monday, helping move the GOP within a seat of seizing control of the chamber while a string of congressional races in the state remained in play.

In a bitter fight southeast of Los Angeles, Republican Rep. Michelle Steel defeated Democrat Jay Chen in a district that was specifically drawn to give Asian Americans, who comprise the largest group in the district, a stronger voice on Capitol Hill. It includes the nation’s largest Vietnamese community.

East of Los Angeles, Republican Rep. Ken Calvert notched a win over Democrat Will Rollins. With 80% of the votes tallied, Calvert, the longest serving Republican in the California congressional delegation, established a nearly 5,500-vote edge in the contest.

Ten races in the state remained undecided as vote-counting continued, though only a handful were seen as tight enough to break either way.

It takes 218 seats to control the House. Republicans have locked down 217 seats so far, with Democrats claiming 205.

Should Democrats fail to protect their fragile majority, Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield would be in line to replace Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco.

In the 45th District anchored in Orange County, Steel, a South Korean immigrant looking for a second term in Congress, faced Chen, a Navy reservist and the son of immigrants from Taiwan. The race was being watched nationally for what it says about the preferences of the Asian community.

The candidates initially made inflation and hate crimes against Asian Americans key issues. But the race took an ugly turn and most of it focused on accusation and recrimination.

Chen’s advertising depicted Steel as an extremist who would threaten abortion rights, while Republicans accused Chen of “racism” after he told supporters an “interpreter” was needed to understand Steel’s remarks, arguing that Chen was mocking her accented English. Chen said he was referring to “convoluted talking points” that he said Steel uses to sidestep issues.

Steel also distributed flyers depicting Chen as a communist sympathizer, while Chen has said his grandmother fled China to escape communist rule.

In California, the primary House battlegrounds are Orange County — a suburban expanse southeast of Los Angeles that was once a GOP stronghold but has become increasingly diverse and Democratic — and the Central Valley, an inland stretch sometimes called the nation’s salad bowl for its agricultural production.

The tightest remaining contest in the state emerged in the Central Valley, where Democrat Adam Gray seized a tissue-thin lead after Republican John Duarte jumped ahead by 84 votes in a fight for an open seat in District 13.

Underscoring the tightness of the contest, Gray’s campaign formed a committee to begin raising money to finance a possible recount. Those costs, which are paid to county election officials, fall on the campaign committee or voter that requested a recount. Generally, such requests cannot be made until a month after the election.

The latest returns showed Gray leading by 761 votes, with nearly 80% of the votes tabulated.

In Orange County, one of the state’s marquee races tightened when an updated vote tally showed Republican Scott Baugh slashing in half a narrow edge held by Democratic Rep. Katie Porter. Porter, a star of the party’s progressive wing, was leading the former legislator Baugh by about 2,900 votes — or just over 1 percentage point — with nearly 80% of the votes counted.

In another battleground district north of Los Angeles, Republican Rep. Mike Garcia held a comfortable edge over Democrat Christy Smith in their third consecutive match-up, after Garcia claimed the first two.

The latest returns — with about two-thirds of the votes counted — showed Garcia with 54.4%, to 45.6% for Smith.

In a statement on Twitter, Smith said her chances for seizing the seat had “narrowed significantly” and “it’s likely Garcia holds the seat.”

Democrats also were holding significant margins in several districts, including the Central Valley’s 9th, where Democratic Rep. Josh Harder had a nearly 13-point edge over Republican Tom Patti.

Click here to read the full article in AP News

Pelosi Says Members Urging Her to Consider House Leadership Again

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Sunday her congressional colleagues are encouraging her to run for another term as Democratic leader.

Why it matters: The comment is the starkest indication yet that Pelosi is mulling another run for the position she’s held variably as speaker and minority leader for nearly two decades.

What she’s saying: In a CNN “State of the Union” interview, Pelosi said “of course” she will make a decision about re-election to the position before the Democrats’ leadership elections on Nov. 30.

  • “People are campaigning, and that’s a beautiful thing, and I’m not asking anyone for anything,” Pelosi said, “My members are asking me to consider doing that.”
  • “Let’s just get through the [2022 midterm] election,” she added.

Between the lines: Whether Democrats keep the majority in the House is expected to have a significant impact on Pelosi’s decision-making.

  • She is much more likely to stay if she can be the speaker than the House minority leader.
  • “The Speaker will make an announcement when she makes an announcement,” Pelosi spokesperson Drew Hammill said in a statement. “Until then, let’s all enjoy watching Kevin McCarthy lose a speakership his party hasn’t even won in the first place.”
  • Asked on Sunday whether McCarthy has what it takes to be speaker, Pelosi said, “No, I don’t think he has it.”

State of play: Roughly 20 House races remain uncalled by the Associated Press as of Sunday. Neither party has reached the 218 seats needed to take the majority.

  • Democrats would have to win three-quarters of those seats to keep the House — a long shot, but not out of the question.
  • “They’ve been measuring for draperies. They’ve been putting forth an agenda. They haven’t won it yet,” Pelosi said Sunday.

Click here to read the full article on Axios

Unsettled California Races Could Tip US House Control

The outcome in a string of closely matched California U.S. House races that could play into control of the chamber remained unsettled Friday, as millions of ballots remained uncounted in the nation’s most populous state.

More than a dozen races in the state remained in play, though only a handful were seen as tight enough to go either way. It takes 218 seats to control the House. Republicans had locked down 211 for far, with Democrats claiming 200.

It could take days, or even weeks, to determine who gets the gavel next year.

Should Democrats fail to protect their slim majority, Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield would be in line to replace Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco.

In California, the primary battlegrounds are Orange County — a suburban expanse southeast of Los Angeles that was once a GOP stronghold but has become increasingly diverse and Democratic — and the Central Valley, an inland stretch sometimes called the nation’s salad bowl for its agricultural production.

One of the tightest races matched Democratic Rep. Katie Porter, a star of the party’s progressive wing, against Republican Scott Baugh, a former legislator, in an Orange County district about equally divided between Democrats and Republicans.

Returns showed Porter expanding her narrow lead to 4,555 votes, or 51.2% to 48.8% for Baugh. Earlier, Porter’s edge had been about 3,000 votes.

In another close contest in a Democratic-leaning district north of Los Angeles, Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Garcia saw his comfortable edge over Democratic challenger Christy Smith dip slightly. His margin remained at 12 points, 56% to 44%.

Democrats have long dominated California’s congressional delegation, which is dropping to 52 seats next year, from 53 seats, because its population growth has stalled, though it remains the largest delegation in Congress.

In the current term, Republicans hold only 11 of the 53 seats in the strongly Democratic state.

With counting incomplete, Republicans claimed six races so far and were leading in six others.

Democrats tallied wins in 30 seats and were leading in 10 other contests. In two of those races, only Democrats were on the ballot, meaning the party will hold control of those seats.

But much uncertainty remained. As of Thursday, nearly 5 million ballots remained uncounted statewide.

East of Los Angeles, Republican Rep. Ken Calvert regained the lead after trailing Democrat Will Rollins. With about half the votes counted, Calvert held a 1-point edge. Calvert, first elected in 1992, is the longest serving Republican in the California congressional delegation.

In the Central Valley’s 22nd District, where about half the votes have been counted, an update showed Democrat Rudy Salas cutting into the lead held by Republican Rep. David Valadao, who voted to impeach then-President Donald Trump. The two are divided by 5 points, after Valadao earlier had a more than 8-point advantage.

In a competitive district anchored in San Diego County, Democratic Rep. Mike Levin saw his edge grow slightly against Republican businessman Brian Maryott. Levin holds a 4-point margin, with about two-thirds of the votes tallied.

Click here to read the full article at AP News

Republicans Optimistic in Blue Regions That Biden Won

Is GOP spending in 26th House District  a sign of confidence — or overreach?

As the sun set behind rows of modest homes, Republican Matt Jacobs knocked on doors urging voters in Oxnard to ditch their incumbent Democratic congresswoman and pick him to improve their quality of life.

“I care deeply about this community,” Jacobs told Jacqueline Mercado, 28, adding that he was born and raised in Ventura County, a message he repeated in English and fluent Spanish in this predominantly Latino neighborhood. “I just think things can be better all around.”

With her 1-year-old daughter crawling nearby, Mercado, a Democrat, nodded vigorously when Jacobs asked if the cost of groceries was affecting her family. “Absolutely,” Mercado said, before telling him that she would vote for him in Tuesday’s election.

“I just want someone to make everything better,” said Mercado, an employee of the state’s toll-free 211 system that connects Californians with job training, after-school programs and other services. “Make things better, like inflation. That really matters, because gas is crazy right now. Food. Everything.”

Such pocketbook concerns are among the reasons Republicans say they feel good about their odds in blue regions like California’s 26th Congressional District, which Joe Biden won by 20 points.

The GOP is favored to take control of the House in Tuesday’s election, and voters like Mercado could make that happen or determine the size of its majority.

The midterms have been defined by Republicans arguing that Democrats are poor stewards of the economy and their policies have fomented rising crime, and Democrats warning that Republicans are too extreme when it comes to abortion rights, threats to democracy and potential cuts to Social Security.

The 26th, largely based in Ventura County with a sliver of Los Angeles County, is probably a reach for Republicans. But the prospect of it being in play suggests vulnerability for Democrats in a number of districts in California and across the country that Biden won by double digits.

“If California Democrats have a headache in California 26, they’ve got the flu in a whole range of more competitive seats,” including contests in the Central Valley and Southern California, said David Wasserman, a congressional forecaster for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

Democrat Julia Brownley has represented much of Ventura County in Congress since 2013. On Tuesday, the district was moved from “solid Democrat” to “lean Democrat” by Cook, which based its prognostication on a poll that showed a statistical dead heat between the candidates and the amount of money flowing in.

The Cook Report also forecast tightening contests in districts represented by Democrats Katie Porter of Irvine and Josh Harder of Turlock.

Many of these districts, in historically conservative bastions such as Porter’s in Orange County, are now closely split between Democratic and Republican voters, or are places where Democrats wield a numeric edge but have a GOP incumbent, such as Reps. Mike Garcia of Santa Clarita and David Valadao of Hanford.

The 26th District, however, doesn’t fit into either of these categories. The incumbent is a Democrat, and though the district gained conservative Simi Valley in the 2021 redrawing of congressional maps, Democrats still have a nearly 15-percentage-point voter registration edge.

Wasserman was among the prognosticators who was skeptical when Brownley’s prospects were initially questioned.

“But clearly the environment has deteriorated for Democrats since then,” he said. “Though she’s still a clear favorite, she is not in as solid shape because Republicans have a credible candidate and there is still some ancestral Republican support in Ventura County.”

Inflation, gas prices, concerns about crime and the lack of exciting statewide campaigns are a boon for Republicans, said Democratic strategist Andrew Acosta.

“All of this is a toxic brew,” he said, adding that voters in districts like Brownley’s may be liberal on social issues but malleable on economic matters. “And we are in a pocketbook election.”

GOP politicians represented the area in Congress for 70 years, until Brownley won her seat in 2012. One out of five of the district’s voters decline to identify with a political party.

More than 20 House campaign committees and leadership PACs contributed to Brownley and Jacobs over a three-day span in late October, making it “the top House target for Republicans and Democrats alike” for such efforts, according to the research director for the California Target Book, a nonpartisan guide that analyzes races in the state. A pro-Brownley outside group recently chipped in a half-million dollars.

GOP redistricting expert Matt Rexroad said that these moves, as well as President Biden’s appearance with Rep. Mike Levin in Oceanside on Thursday, indicate that several districts in California are competitive.

“Follow the money,” he said. “The fact that President Biden is coming to northern San Diego and the fact you have money moving to Brownley means that something is in play.”

Brownley concedes that “this is a tough election.”

“It’s tightening up all around the country,” she toldscores of volunteers on a recent chilly morning in an Oxnard parking lot. After posing for pictures with the congresswoman, they were bused to Calabasas and Agoura Hills to knock on doors.

Brownley said she is optimistic about her prospects because of her relationship with her constituents as well as voters’ stances on abortion, the environment and immigration.

“I never give up hope,” she said in an interview. “My values and the district’s values are aligned.”

Both candidates portray themselves as moderates, but they are clearly in sync with their respective party’s base.

Jacobs, a former federal prosecutor who twice voted for President Trump, said the Supreme Court ruling that ended federal abortion rights was constitutionally correct, but said he would not vote for a federal abortion ban. Though he said he supportsabortion accessin cases of rape, incest and health of the pregnant woman, Jacobs would not say whether he supported broader abortion rights.

Brownley paints Jacobs as an extremist supported by Republicans who back a nationwide ban, and says California voters care about abortion rights beyond the state’s borders.

“Women in California are smarter than that, and they’re in the fight for every single woman across the country, not just for women here,” Brownley said.

This message is personal for Terri Lisagor, a retired professor who lives in Camarillo. When she was in college, her roommate became pregnant and traveled to Mexico for an abortion.

Lisagor, 73, acknowledged that she was concerned about Democratic prospects this election.

“We get complacent — ‘Oh, sure, California is so blue, it won’t matter,’ ” she said, shortly before canvassing for Brownley in Calabasas. “We need to keep harping on it, keep encouraging people to vote.”

Republicans have homed in on similar congressional districts that supported Biden in states that include Oregon, Connecticut, Rhode Island and New York.

The Congressional Leadership Fund, a well-funded super PAC aligned with House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, has targeted 11 districts that Biden won by double digits. Five are in California, including the 13th District in the Central Valley.

The 13th District is a rare open seat that’s contested by Democratic Assemblyman Adam Gray and Republican businessman John Duarte. Democrats have a 14-point voter edge over Republicans in the heavily agricultural district; Biden underperformed there, winning by 11 points.

The district is one of five rated as toss-ups in California; six others are viewed as in play.

Democratic strategists express concern about some of these districts, but are skeptical about how competitive Brownley’s is.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

Sharp Swing in Momentum Toward GOP Sparks Democratic Angst

Angst is growing among Democrats that the momentum they saw earlier this year in their bid to keep control of the Senate is beginning to wane as towering inflation and deepening economic unease supplant issues like abortion rights atop the list of voters’ concerns.

As recently as a few weeks ago, Democrats were bullish about their chances of defying harsh historical and political headwinds, believing that voter anger over the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and lingering GOP concerns about the quality of Republican candidates might allow them to not only hold, but expand their paper-thin Senate majority.

But the political winds appear to be shifting once again in the GOP’s favor. Recent polling has found Republicans regaining an edge on the so-called generic ballot, a survey question that asks voters which party they plan to vote for in November. Meanwhile, the data website FiveThirtyEight’s Senate forecast shows Democrats’ chances of holding the Senate dropping by 11 percent over the past month.

“A month ago, it looked like not only were the Democrats poised to hold the Senate, the question was: were they going to be able to get, you know, two extra seats?” said Fernand Amandi, a Democratic pollster who worked on former President Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns. “Now I think the hope is just to hang on.” 

With fewer than three weeks to go before Election Day and early voting already underway in key battleground states like Georgia and Arizona, the tightening contest for the Senate has some Democrats fearing that the party may have peaked too early.

“If you look at the Dobbs decision — that seems to have come a little too early for the Democrats,” Jon Reinish, a Democratic strategist and former aide to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), said, referring to Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Supreme Court decision that overturned the constitutional right on abortion. 

“And I think there [are] other currents — inflation is probably the biggest one — that have kind of interfered with the singularity of that argument.”

Indeed, Republicans have hammered Democrats relentlessly on inflation, the economy and crime throughout the fall campaign season, betting that those issues would eventually outmuscle Democrats’ core themes: that abortion rights are at risk, the future of American democracy is in jeopardy and that they’re capable of governing in a volatile moment in the country’s history.

The New York Times-Siena College poll of 792 likely voters nationwide showed the economy and inflation topping the list of problems facing the country, while only 5 percent of voters said that abortion is the most pressing issue. Even among Democratic voters, economic challenges took precedence over reproductive rights. 

In one of the poll’s more alarming findings for Democrats, women who identified as independents said they preferred Republicans by an 18-point margin, a stark reversal from September, when those voters favored Democrats by a 14-point margin. Democrats have sought relentlessly to sway those voters by warning of threats to abortion rights.

“The voters who would be most susceptible to the Democrats’ messaging on abortion are shifting,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist and former congressional candidate.

“As long as the Republicans stay focused on two things — my money, my family — then they’ll win in 2022,” he added. “They’ll win in 2024. Because the Democrats aren’t showing any sign of changing their approach.”

To be sure, Democrats still stand a decent chance at holding their Senate majority in spite of the recent shifts. Their Senate candidates are outraising Republicans across the board, the GOP is seeking to wrangle a roster of untested candidates and, as of Thursday, FiveThirtyEight’s forecast still gives Democrats a 60 percent chance of winning the Senate.

At the same time, Democratic incumbents who were considered some of the most vulnerable have solidified their positions in key races. 

In Arizona, for example, Sen. Mark Kelly (D) has a distinct polling and financial lead over his Republican rival Blake Masters. Likewise, New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan (D) is leading her GOP challenger Don Bolduc by nearly 8 points in FiveThirtyEight’s polling average. Both races lean in Democrats’ favor, according to The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan election handicapper.

But with the Senate divided 50-50 between the two parties, Democrats have no room for error. If Republicans net even a single seat in the upper chamber next month, it would deliver them the majority.

In Nevada, the race between Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D) and Republican Adam Laxalt remains in a dead heat. And despite facing a spate of scandals and questions about his personal history, Republican Herschel Walker has managed to stay within striking distance of Sen. Raphael Warnock (D) in Georgia. 

Democrats still stand a chance at flipping a GOP-held Senate seat in Pennsylvania, where Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and Republican Mehmet Oz are vying to succeed retiring Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), though polling has shown a tightening race in recent weeks following a barrage of attacks against Fetterman accusing him of being soft on crime.

“A lot of these races — they were always going to tighten,” one Democratic strategist said. “I think a lot of folks just got ahead of themselves over the summer, thinking they had some kind of silver bullet.”

“I still say advantage Democrats for now,” the strategist added. “But yeah, no doubt the Republicans are catching up a little bit.”

Some Democrats expressed frustration with the way key Senate races have tightened. Amandi, the pollster, said that Democrats need to focus their closing message on sharpening the contrast between themselves and “extreme, unhinged Republican candidates.”

“Perhaps Democratic messaging hasn’t been as strong as it could be,” Amandi said. “But we’re talking about things tightening when the choice is between chaos and competency. The Democrats have governed with a competent, steady hand in a very volatile environment. What we’ve seen from the Republican Party over the last six years has been wholesale unhinged chaos. And what they’re offering is more chaos.”

Others, however, said that the party simply hasn’t done enough to campaign on meaningful legislative accomplishments and the pocketbook issues that could ultimately decide the midterms.

“How is it possible that seniors don’t know about the reduction in drug prices because of the ability of Medicare to negotiate?” Jonathan Tasini, a former national surrogate for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) 2016 presidential bid, said, referring to a provision in the Inflation Reduction Act, which was signed into law this summer.

“It’s obviously going to be very close, but it shouldn’t be,” he added. “Control of the Senate will be decided by probably a seat or two. And it just shouldn’t.” 

Keith Naughton, a veteran Republican strategist with deep experience in Pennsylvania politics, said that the improving environment for the GOP isn’t necessarily surprising. Rather, it’s the result of more voters tuning into the political conversation as Election Day draws nearer.

Click here to read the full article in The Hill

US House Races in California Could Shape Future of Congress

U.S. House battles took shape in heavily Democratic California that could tip the balance of power in Congress, while former Trump administration Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was in a tight match to claim the Republican nomination for a new House seat in Montana.

In Mississippi, two Republican congressmen were forced into runoffs to keep their seats. Rep. Steven Palazzo had been dogged by ethics questions over his campaign spending, while Rep. Michael Guest faced a challenger who criticized his vote on a proposal to create an outside commission to investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.

Primary elections across seven states Tuesday set up November contests in dozens of races, as Democrats look to protect the party’s fragile majority in the House.

In a diverse district anchored in California’s Orange County, Republican U.S. Rep. Michelle Steel, a South Korean immigrant, will face Democrat Jay Chen. The district, which includes the nation’s largest Vietnamese American community, is widely considered a toss-up.

In other districts in the nation’s most populous state, two Republican House members were trying to surmount challenges tied to former President Donald Trump: One voted to support Trump’s impeachment after the U.S. Capitol insurrection, while the other fought against it.

A look at results in key U.S. House races Tuesday:

BATTLEGROUND CALIFORNIA: TRUMP HISTORY LOOMS IN KEY DISTRICTS

In 2020, Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Garcia won a narrow victory in a Democratic-leaning district north of Los Angeles. The former Navy fighter pilot was endorsed by Trump that year, then joined House Republicans who rejected electoral votes from Arizona and Pennsylvania and opposed Trump’s impeachment after the Capitol insurrection. That record will be a focus for Democrat Christy Smith, who earned a chance for a rematch with Garcia, after losing two years ago.

In a Democratic-tilting district in the state’s Central Valley farm belt, Republican Rep. David Valadao is highlighting an independent streak while contending with GOP fallout for his vote to impeach Trump over the Jan. 6 insurrection. Early returns showed him holding an edge over Republican Chris Mathys, who made Valadao’s vote a centerpiece in his campaign to oust him. The winner will face Democrat Rudy Salas, a state legislator.

California uses a top-two election format in which only the two leading vote-getters advance to the November general election, regardless of party.

In the Central Valley, Republican Connie Conway won a special election to complete the term of former Rep. Devin Nunes, who resigned to head Trump’s media company.

TWO MISSISSIPPI CONGRESSMEN FORCED INTO RUNOFFS

A pair of GOP congressmen in Mississippi are headed to June 28 runoffs.

U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo, first elected in 2010, will face Jackson County Sheriff Mike Ezell after failing to win the GOP nomination outright on Tuesday, earning less than 50% of the vote.

A 2021 report by the Office of Congressional Ethics found “substantial reason to believe” Palazzo, a military veteran who serves on the Appropriations and Homeland Security committees, abused his office by misspending campaign funds, doing favors for his brother and enlisting staff for political and personal errands. His then-spokesperson, Colleen Kennedy, said the probe was based on politically motivated “false allegations.”

In another Mississippi district, U.S. Rep. Michael Guest will face former Navy pilot Michael Cassidy in a district that cuts through parts of central Mississippi.

Cassidy criticized Guest for being in the minority of Republicans who voted to create an outside commission to investigate the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol — a group that would have been separate from the congressional committee now conducting the investigation. Cassidy also says on his website that President Joe Biden should be impeached.

FORMER TRUMP CABINET MEMBER SEEKS RETURN TRIP TO WASHINGTON

Montana gained a second congressional district this year thanks to its growing population, and Zinke, an Interior Department secretary under Trump, is one of five Republicans on the primary ballot for the open seat.

Zinke’s rivals have been drawing attention to his troubled tenure at the agency, which was marked by multiple ethics investigations. One investigation determined Zinke lied to an agency ethics official about his continued involvement in a commercial real estate deal in his hometown. He’s faced a smear campaign over his military service from the extreme right wing of his party and questions about his residency following revelations that his wife declared a house in California as her primary residence.

Zinke, a former Navy SEAL and former Montana congressman, was in a tight race Wednesday against former state Sen. Al “Doc” Olszewski, an orthopedic surgeon and hard-line conservative who has tried to paint Zinke as a “liberal insider.” The results of the race were being delayed because of ballot printing errors that forced officials in one county to count votes by hand.

The winner will face Olympic rower and attorney Monica Tranel, a Democrat, in the general election.

IOWA’S SOLE DEMOCRATIC HOUSE MEMBER FACES A TOUGH FIGHT

A Republican state senator has captured the slot to take on Democratic Rep. Cindy Axne this fall in a newly drawn district that appears more favorable for the GOP.

Axne is the only Democrat in Iowa’s House delegation.

State Sen. Zach Nunn easily outdistanced rivals Nicole Hasso, a financial services worker, and Gary Leffler, who works in the construction industry, to claim the GOP spot. Nunn, an Air Force pilot who has served in the Legislature since 2014 and has worked to cut taxes, was the best known among the GOP contenders.

In previous elections, Axne was elevated by her strong support in the Des Moines area, even as she struggled in rural counties that typically lean Republican. The new district includes several counties in southern Iowa known to turn out strongly for Republicans, increasing the pressure on Axne to drive up her numbers in Democrat-friendly Des Moines and its suburbs.

REMATCH COMING IN NEW JERSEY HOUSE BATTLEGROUND

In what could be New Jersey’s most closely watched contest in the fall, Democratic U.S. Rep. Tom Malinowski and Republican Tom Kean Jr. won their primaries, setting up a rematch of their closely contested 2020 race.

Malinowski, a State Department official in the Obama administration, is seeking a third term as his party faces headwinds heading into the general election. His district added more Republican-leaning towns during redistricting, making his reelection bid potentially more difficult.

Another complicating factor is an ethics investigation he’s facing over stock transactions in medical and tech companies that had a stake in the pandemic response. A report from the Office of Congressional Ethics said the board found “substantial reason to believe” he failed to properly disclose or report his stock transactions.

Malinowski said his failure to initially disclose the transactions was “a mistake that I own 100%.” He said he didn’t direct or even ask questions about trades made by his brokerage firm.

Kean, a former state Senate minority leader and the son of the former two-term Republican governor, said in a tweet that he was humbled by his victory and looks forward to seizing the seat in November.

Click here to read the full article in the AP News

Republican Beefs Up Campaign Spending as O.C. Threat Emerges

GOP Rep. Young Kim of Orange County has all the elements for a fairly easy path to reelection in November — a gloomy national mood favoring her party, a formidable campaign war chest and a new, more Republican-friendly district. Most prognosticators considered her June 7 primary to be an afterthought.

UNITED STATES – MAY 23: Young Kim, Republican running for California’s 39th Congressional district seat in Congress, speaks with attendees at the Brea & Placentia Caravan gathering of real estate professionals at Panera Bread in Brea, Calif., on Wednesday, May 23, 2018. California is holding its primary election on June 5, 2018. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

But now she is campaigning with a sudden sense of urgency. Kim has unleashed $1.3 million in advertising as the primary approaches. Outside allies are coming to her aid with more spending.

Most of Kim’s focus is on fending off Greg Raths, an underfunded GOP opponent who has been a staple on the political scene in Mission Viejo, the district’s largest city. After years of touting her bipartisan bona fides, she is upping her appeals to the GOP base, emphasizing her conservatism and hard-edged rhetoric on illegal immigration.

The explosion in spending may just be a cautionary measure, or a sign of a suddenly rattled front-runner. More broadly, Kim’s tilt further to the right reflects redistricting’s influence on politicians. With a shift in district boundaries, Kim’s campaign style has shifted too — vying for a constituency that is more conservative and less diverse than the residents she now represents.

“We think she is the heavy favorite to win reelection, but you can’t win reelection if you don’t make it through the primary first,” said Nathan Gonzales, editor and publisher of Inside Elections, which provides nonpartisan campaign analysis. “I don’t think campaigns make these sort of moves unless there is a concern she isn’t going to make the top two.”

Kim still enjoys the powerful benefits of incumbency. If, in a huge upset, she fails to advance, the implications could reverberate in the national battle for control of the House. The sole Democratic candidate, physician Asif Mahmood, would have improved chances of turning the seat blue, a rare pickup opportunity in a cycle where his party is largely on defense.

Kim’s campaign portrayed the moves as due diligence that was long expected, particularly because she must introduce herself to 80% of the district’s voters.

“We don’t take anything for granted as Congresswoman Kim takes every campaign seriously,” said Sam Oh, a Kim campaign strategist. “She’s working hard to earn every vote.”

The first hints of a changing campaign dynamic came earlier this month, in a text message from Kim linking Raths, a Mission Viejo city councilman, to President Biden, blaming them both for illegal immigration. “We CANNOT risk the Raths-Biden agenda,” it read.

Since then, her advertisements have continued to pile on Raths, showing his photo with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and accusing him of being liberal.

That’s an unlikely label for the 68-year-old retired military colonel who is a devoted fan of former President Trump and the Freedom Caucus, a group of far-right Republicans in Congress. If the GOP takes the House, his choice for speaker would be Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, a conservative firebrand, over House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a fellow Californian.

Raths was largely dismissed by political observers in his challenge against Kim, who had the backing of the Republican establishment and raised nearly $5 million as of March compared with Raths’ $100,000. Another Republican in the race, Nick Taurus, a right-wing extremist who has aligned himself with white nationalists, brought in less than $10,000.

But Raths does have an advantage of familiarity, especially among faithful Republican voters. He has appeared on their ballots multiple times in his city council runs. He also ran for Congress three times, most recently losing to Democratic Rep. Katie Porter in 2020.

After the decennial redistricting process set off a musical chairs among incumbents to compete in redrawn districts, Kim, 59, declared she’d run in the new 40th District. The predominantly inland Orange County swath includes Aliso Viejo and Rancho Santa Margarita. Her residence in La Habra sits just west of the boundaries (members of Congress are not required to live in their districts).

Although a majority of eligible voters in Kim’s current district are people of color (30% Asian American and 29% Latino), the new district has fewer minority voters and is nearly 61% white, according to the nonpartisan California Target Book, which handicaps races.

In previous races, Kim faced an uphill battle against a 5-point Democratic registration advantage. Biden easily beat Trump in that district by 10 percentage points in 2020. To win, she had to appeal to crossover voters — and she did so by emphasizing her moderate politics and making little mention of Trump. Her congressional website touts that she was recently rated the most bipartisan freshman member of Congress and among the top 10 most bipartisan Republican members.

In her unsuccessful run for Congress in 2018, she struck a moderate tone on immigration, emphasizing her support for a pathway to citizenship for “Dreamers” who were brought to the country illegally as children and opposing Trump’s policy of family separation at the border.

Now, running in redder territory — Republicans hold a 5-point registration advantage in the new district — her ads tell voters to “Vote Conservative. Vote Kim.” The immigration-focused text message sent by her campaign touts her support for securing the border, including “Keeping Trump’s Remain in Mexico policy.”

“We’re highlighting her positions that the voters in this district care about that are timely and at the forefront of their minds,” said Oh, the campaign strategist. “It’s as simple as that.’

But Kim’s attempts to outflank Raths on the right may ring false with some voters.

“That’s crazy,” said Nancy Sandoval, 78, a Raths supporter and Mission Viejo resident who runs a website that offers voting advice for conservatives. “I know his heart. He certainly isn’t a liberal.”

Unable to afford television advertising, Raths has put his faith in what he called “an amazing stealth ground game.” He said his campaign has visited 70,000 houses in the district since February. Walking 12 miles a day, Raths said, he’s lost 27 pounds. He would also campaign while working as an Uber driver, pitching his candidacy to passengers.

Some Republicans worry he would be a flawed general election candidate. In 2020, he joined a lawsuit alleging the California election was rife with fraud, echoing Trump’s false election claims; the suit was thrown out by a federal judge. Fox News reported in April that his campaign website copied several passages nearly word for word from South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham’s site. And this month, he said at a candidate forum that the Jewish community “control[s] a lot of politicians.”

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

Democrats’ Fate Lies In The Nation’s Political Battlefield: Orange County

Orange County is at the center of the political universe again, the battleground where upward of $35 million — or about 10 times what’s typically spent on Bay Area House campaigns — will shower each of two key races that will help determine whether Democrats keep control of Congress.

But a lot has changed since 2020, when Republican Reps. Michelle Steel and Young Kim made history by being the first GOP Korean American women to ever serve in Congress. Or 2018, when Democrats flipped four GOP seats here to help take the House. Now, Steel’s race is rated a “toss-up,” while Kim is seen as having a slightly better chance of holding her seat.

For starters, both must introduce themselves to a new crop of voters after California’s redistricting commission redrew the state’s political boundaries. Plus, a number of outside factors could reshape their races, from abortion to Donald Trump to COVID to a battle to win over Asian voters that is among the most intense — and complex — in the country.

In Steel’s race, much of that struggle will be fought in Little Saigon, a hub of more than 200,000 Vietnamese residents that stretches over parts of Orange County, about 10 miles southwest of Anaheim. It’s one of the largest such enclaves in the country.

Instead of running in the more conservative, coastal district where she won in 2020, Steel is now running in the 45th Congressional District, where Democrats have a 5-point registration advantage.

But Steel’s campaign is confident, largely because Little Saigon boosts her district’s Asian American slice of the electorate to 35%. Vietnamese voters were an integral part of the coalition that helped carry Steel to victory in 2020 over incumbent Democrat Harley Rouda, who is white, said Fred Whitaker, chair of the Orange County Republican Party.

“That’s why Michelle Steel moved over (to run in that district), because that was one of her strongest bases,” Whitaker told me. “The party registration may be a little more Democratic, but the way that they vote is Republican.”

The Republican National Committee took notice and last June opened an office in a strip mall in the heart of the community to try to strengthen its ties there. Since then, the GOP has knocked on 75,000 doors and made 200,000 calls in the Steel’s new turf, according to GOP officials.

Steel visited the storefront recently during a training for volunteers to make calls in Vietnamese. Strung across one wall is a 12-foot-long banner featuring a quote attributed to her: “I live in the best country on Earth and I want future generations to achieve their own American Dreams.”

“We’re going to win,” Steel told the dozen volunteers at the training. “No matter what.”

Long Bui, a professor of global and international studies at UC Irvine, said Vietnamese American businesses and voters “will be key to determining who wins this race.”

Their voting patterns, however, aren’t predictable.

Bui, the author of “Returns of War: South Vietnam and the Price of Refugee Memory,” said there’s “a tendency” to think that older Vietnamese — particularly those who fled the Communist takeover of their homeland after the war ended — vote more conservatively than the younger generation.

Instead, Bui said, “the community often considers personalities and who runs the most savvy, impactful campaign. Issues and charisma matter as much or sometimes more than party affiliation.”

Diedre Tu-La Nguyen, the mayor pro-tem of Garden Grove, which is part of Little Saigon, said the Vietnamese community is still small enough that personal relationships often trump party affiliation. The Vietnam-born Democrat, who fled a refugee camp as a child after the war and is now a cancer researcher, is running for Assembly.

“Vietnamese don’t vote for a party, they vote for people,” Nguyen told me over dinner of sea snails, garlic noodles and grilled shrimp at a Little Saigon restaurant. She said that until she ran for office, many didn’t know she was a Democrat. “You just know who people are in the community by their reputation, by what they’ve done.”

In a sign of how unpredictable voters are here, even Nguyen’s household is split. Nguyen’s husband is a Republican.

Democrat Jay Chen is running for Congress in California's 45th Congressional District.
Democrat Jay Chen is running for Congress in California’s 45th Congressional District.Allison Zaucha/Special to The Chronicle

Steel’s main opponent is Jay Chen, a child of Taiwanese immigrants, U.S. Naval Reserve officer, school board member and owner of a real estate firm.

Chen is a better fit for the new district, which “is more working class,” said Ajay Mohan, executive director of the Orange County Democratic Party. Democrats intend to pound Steel for not supporting the federal Paycheck Protection Plan that provided funding to the small businesses that drive the community.

They say Steel — a fervent Trump supporter who received a 77% rating by the Conservative Political Action Committee scorecard (slightly higher than House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield) — is too conservative for the newly drawn district.

Perhaps even more damaging, Chen said, is that she voted against establishing the commission to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection and against the bipartisan $1.9 trillion American Recovery Plan last year.

Steel said the plan was too pricey and sprawling.

Click here to read the full article at the San Francisco Chronicle

With Trump, Against Cheney

House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy endorses primary challenger to the Wyoming Republican.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy endorsed the GOP primary challenger to Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney on Thursday, his latest show of fealty to former President Trump as Republicans try to take control of Congress.

McCarthy did not mention Cheney by name as he announced he was backing attorney Harriet Hageman in the August primary.

“The most successful representatives in Congress focus on the needs of their constituents, and throughout her career, Harriet has championed America’s natural resources and helped the people of Wyoming reject burdensome and onerous government overreach,” the Bakersfield Republican said.

Hageman — once a Cheney ally — did not hold back, saying that Cheney has become an ineffective leader and was being used by Democrats to “achieve their partisan goals.”

“Cheney is doing nothing to help us, she is actively damaging the Republican Party — both in Wyoming and nationally — and it’s time for her to go,” said Hageman, who has frequently battled the federal government over its environmental policies and unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2018.

A Cheney spokesman pointed to comments from prominent Wyoming journalists deriding the importance of a California politician’s endorsement to Hageman’s prospects.

“Wow, she must be really desperate,” spokesman Jeremy Adler said.

McCarthy’s move against Cheney is not surprising. Though Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, overwhelmingly supported Trump’s policies, she became an outspoken critic of his bogus claims that the 2020 election was rigged and of his role in urging his supporters to march to the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Click here to read the full article at LA Times