The longer the vote-counting goes on, the more it seems the big bounceback California Republicans expected this fall from the party’s significant congressional defeats of 2018 may be a halfway thing. Which would still be an achievement in the face of President-elect Joe Biden’s 4.4 million-vote victory in this state.
In 2018, California’s voting for Congress was essentially a referendum on the presidency of Donald Trump, whose wishes virtually all 14 Republican representatives from this state slavishly followed during the first two years of his term.
Eventually, Republicans lost half their California seats, some by razor-thin margins not finally determined until almost a month after the vote.
The state party made a major effort this year to recoup those losses.
The GOP crowed when it won back the 25th District seat stretching from Palmdale in the High Desert of Los Angeles County through Santa Clarita and into part of Ventura County.
That came in a special election last spring after Democrat Katie Hill resigned in a sexting scandal.
Republicans also recruited a roster of solid candidates for other races in the comeback effort.
As the year began, Mike Levin was the only one of the 2018 Democratic seat-flippers whose reelection seemed certain. His 49th District covers northern San Diego County and southern Orange County. Levin in fact won solidly Nov. 3.
So did Democrat Katie Porter in southern Orange County. But four other districts remain up for grabs, with the outcomes likely not to be known until late this month.
One seat-flipper facing uncertainty is T.J. Cox, rematched with longtime former Republican Rep. David Valadao, whom he narrowly bested last time in their 21st District stretching from southern Fresno County to the northern edge of Bakersfield. This race will likely remain a nail-biter for weeks, as in 2018.
Harley Rouda, who narrowly ousted longtime GOP Rep. Dana Rohrabacher from his coastal Orange County seat, drew county Supervisor Michelle Steel this year. The Asian-American wife of former state GOP chairman Shawn Steel out-fundraised Rouda early on and led by 4,700 votes several days after the vote, with the outcome still uncertain.
The same for the reelection bid of Democrat Gil Cisneros, a onetime Mega Millions lottery winner rematched in the mostly Orange County 39th district with former Republican state Assemblywoman Young Kim. Like Steel, she has a strong following in the county’s large Asian immigrant populace.
Cisneros won their 2018 race by about 2.5 percent, but was outdrawn in the primary last March. He counted on a large anti-Trump turnout this fall, but trailed Kim by 2,400 votes a few days after Election Night.
Nail biting will continue here for weeks.
One plus for Democrats was the relative ease of reelection for Josh Harder in the Modesto-centered 10th District, where Republican veterinarian Ted Howze hoped to draw the area’s strong farm vote. Harder and two Democrats drew almost the exact same number of primary votes as three Republicans in the March primary.
Harder, who ousted longtime Republican Rep. Jeff Denham two years ago, hoped a large turnout in the presidential election would help him and it did. There is no suspense here: Harder had a 30,000-vote lead on Election Night.
Then there’s the see-sawing 25th District. Democratic state Assemblywoman Christy Smith led there after Election Night by less than 700 votes over Mike Garcia, the springtime special election winner.
Three days later, Garcia led by 420. This one also will take weeks to decide.
It’s far from certain, but because most remaining votes are late absentee or provisional ballots that in recent years have mostly gone Democratic, the likelihood of Republicans ending up with more than three of the seats they lost two years ago now appears small.
Extremely tight Election Night tallies like these favored Democrats in the past, but early indications are that this year might be different. What’s clear is that at least three of the 2018 seat-flippers will be back in Congress when a new session begins. But some may not.
Which means California Republicans’ hopes of a miracle comeback now look somewhat exaggerated, while Democrats also have little to crow about.
Email Thomas Elias at [email protected].