Democrats like to say they will probably need to flip three or more current California Republican seats in the House of Representatives in order to hang onto their current slim majority.
Prior to the June Supreme Court Dobbs v. Jackson decision eliminating any federal right to abortion, for any reason, it was conventional wisdom to believe they had little chance of doing that.
But things changed overnight with the anti-abortion ruling, giving Democrats a far better chance. One supposed harbinger is August’s 59-41% vote in normally Republican Kansas against removing abortion rights from that state’s constitution.
So Democrats have a chance. But things remain uncertain here in California, where votes will soon start coming into county election offices.
No race better exemplifies this than the one in Orange County’s 47th District, where two-term incumbent Katie Porter feels sufficiently endangered to buy television ads covering the entire Los Angeles/Orange County market, of which her district is but a small fraction.
Centered on the city of Irvine, Porter’s newly-drawn district features less of a Democratic voter registration edge than her old one. Porter, viewed nationally as a rising Democratic star, has plenty of money for those ads, but most who see them don’t know who she is.
She won 51.7% of the primary election vote in June to just 30.9% for Republican opponent Scott Baugh. But GOP candidates totaled 48.3%, and since then, Porter has been hurt by news that after almost four years in Congress, she still lives in housing subsidized by UC Irvine, bought when she became a law professor there. Her arrangement is legal, but its revelation weakens her.
Her regional ads try to recoup losses by focusing on her defense of abortion rights.
Abortion has been less of an issue in the nearby 45th District, where Democrats hoped candidate Jay Chen could overcome a 56.8 percent Republican primary vote to upset incumbent Michelle Steel, a former Orange County supervisor.
That hope now looks unrealistic.
Democrats also don’t have much of a shot in the neighboring 40th District, where their candidate Asif Mahmood “won” the primary with 40.9% of the vote. Trouble is, Republicans got the other 59.1%, and GOP incumbent Young Kim will likely win almost all ballots cast in June for others in her party. So Democrats have little chance in the 40th.
But they have a real opportunity in the 27th District, centered on Santa Clarita and including most of the Antelope Valley and a piece of Los Angeles. The newly-shaped 27th, including most of the old 25th District, is slightly more Democratic than before. Yet, Republican incumbent Mike Garcia, elected in 2020 by a margin of just 333 votes, led the primary with 50.3% of ballots to 37.4% for ex-state Assemblywoman Christy Smith. Democrats totaled 49.7% there.
That was pre-Dobbs. Garcia has waffled on that decision, noting only that it changed nothing in California – never mind the rest of America. That leaves Smith, a strong abortion backer, as a slim favorite despite her narrow loss to Garcia last time out.
Democrat Adam Grey also has a good shot at winning in the newly constituted 13th District, including most of the three “M” cities in the Central Valley: Madera, Merced and Modesto. Democrat Josh Harder has recently represented much of this area, but moved one district north this year to run in a slightly more heavily Democratic area. Turnout among Latinos will decide this race.
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It’s much the same in the redrawn 22nd district, stretching from Hanford and Tulare south into Kern County and west past Kettleman City. Here, Republican incumbent David Valadao beat Democratic Assemblyman Rudy Salas in June by 9 percent, but a large prospective Latino vote and the abortion decision make things uncertain.
The Dobbs decision also gives Democrat Will Rollins, running in part on a gay rights platform, a longshot chance against Republican veteran Ken Calvert in the new 41st district, stretching from west of Riverside into the Coachella Valley. But this would be a major upset.
The bottom line: If Democrats come out with a net gain of two seats among all these, they should consider themselves fortunate.
Email Thomas Elias at email@example.com.