Tough U.S. House battles will take shape in California districts

TJ Cox speaks at a 2018 midterm elections rally on Oct. 4, 2018 in Fullerton. (Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

TJ Cox speaks at a 2018 midterm elections rally on Oct. 4, 2018 in Fullerton. (Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

A pair of California Republicans were leading Democratic incumbents Wednesday in battleground congressional districts as the GOP tries to position itself to win back a string of U.S. House seats it lost two years ago.

President Donald Trump, who wants the House back under GOP control and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi demoted, has said that with hard work, Republicans “can pick up seven seats in the state of California.”

Tuesday’s primary election set the stage for those November battles, which will play out in a state that is home to the so-called Trump resistance and where the president is widely unpopular outside his core GOP base.

Early returns showed some GOP successes in Orange County, where Republican Young Kim was the top vote-getter, setting up a rematch with Democratic U.S. Rep. Gil Cisneros. And in the 21st District, Republican David Valadao was leading incumbent Democrat TJ Cox.

In the strongly Democratic 53rd District in San Diego County, Democrat Sara Jacobs, a former State Department contractor and granddaughter of billionaire Qualcomm co-founder Irwin Jacobs, advanced to the November election. Among those seeking the second slot: San Diego City Council President Georgette Gomez, who has been endorsed by the state Democratic Party and Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Republicans hold a mere six of the state’s 53 House seats, with two vacancies. But the party wants to show it can bounce back, even in a state where Democrats control every statewide office, dominate both chambers of the Legislature and hold a 4.3-million edge in voter registrations.

The seven races in districts won by Democrats in 2018:


Democratic Rep. Josh Harder and Republican Ted Howze, a veterinarian, were in a close race as they separated from the remainder of the field. Harder, a venture capitalist, grabbed this farm belt seat from Republican Jeff Denham in 2018. Democrats hold a registration edge in the district, though the state’s agricultural centers have long been known for Republicans who vote reliably and Democrats who often do not. Other candidates lagged further back.


Trump recently called former Republican Rep. David Valadao “an incredible guy” he wants back in Washington. But to get there, he’ll need to defeat the Democrat who narrowly beat him in 2018, Rep. TJ Cox. The district has a deceptively large Democratic registration edge — Valadao held the seat for several terms before Cox’s 2018 victory. They are among four candidates on the ballot. A tally of early votes showed the pair far ahead of two other candidates, setting up a potential rematch.


This swing district north of Los Angeles is vacant after Democratic Rep. Katie Hill resigned amid a sex scandal and House ethics probe last year. Democratic legislator Christy Smith advanced Wednesday in a special election to fill the remainder of Hill’s term this year. Her rival in that race wasn’t clear: She was followed by former combat pilot and defense industry executive Mike Garcia, a Republican. The outcome also remained unsettled in a second election for the term that begins in 2021. Other candidates in the mix include online news personality and progressive Cenk Uygur and former Rep. Steve Knight, a Republican who lost the seat to Hill in 2018.


Voters in the closely divided, diverse district anchored in Orange County will see a rematch between first-term Democratic Rep. Gil Cisneros and Republican Young Kim. Cisneros claimed the seat in 2018, one of four Republican-held districts all or partly in Orange County that Democrats won. It was a stunning realignment in a county once known as a national GOP stronghold. Kim and Cisneros easily outpaced independent Steve Cox.


Several Republicans who hope to face off against Democratic Rep. Katie Porter were closely bunched in early votes. Two years ago, Porter proved that even a progressive can win in the heart of what was once California’s “Reagan country” in a district with a Republican tilt. The law professor and protégé of presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren snatched the Orange County seat in 2018 from Republican Rep. Mimi Walters. This time, Porter is the sole Democrat on the ballot and a handful of Republicans are dueling for a chance to challenge her, including former fighter pilot Greg Raths, Laguna Hills City Councilman Don Sedgwick, Yorba Linda Councilwoman Peggy Huang and Lisa Sparks, dean of Chapman University’s School of Communications.


First-term Democrat Harley Rouda will have a November showdown with Republican Michelle Steel, who heads the Orange County Board of Supervisors. Two years ago, Rouda ousted long-serving Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher from the coastal district, which includes Newport Beach and other wealthy enclaves. The district retains a Republican registration edge, but Rouda exposed its shifting politics with his surprise win in 2018.


First-term Rep. Mike Levin is defending his seat against Republican Brian Maryott, the only candidates on the ballot. The district anchored in San Diego County has a small Republican registration edge but has been growing increasingly favorable for Democrats for years. Levin carried the district by nearly 13 points in 2018.

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