Democratic legislator Christy Smith advanced Wednesday in her bid to fill a Southern California U.S. House seat left vacant after the resignation of former Rep. Katie Hill.
Smith advanced to an expected May runoff in a special election in the 25th District. She was also leading a crowded field in a separate, second race for the full House term that begins in 2021.
The district is being watched nationally for hints about which party might control Congress next year. Hill, a one-time rising Democratic star, resigned last year amid a House ethics probe and sex scandal.
Vote-counting was continuing, but Smith was followed in both races by Republican Mike Garcia, a former Navy fighter pilot, with former Republican Rep. Steve Knight further back. Knight lost the district to Hill in 2018.
In an incomplete tally of votes Wednesday, Smith had about 34 percent of the vote in the special election, and about 30 percent in the separate race for the full House term.
If no candidate wins more than 50% of the special election vote — the threshold to claim the seat — then the top two vote-getters would be matched up in another special election in May.
The district is one of a string of House seats in California that the GOP lost to Democrats in 2018. Republicans want the seat back, while Democrats believe they have a strong chance to hold it, despite its history as Republican-leaning terrain.
Smith said in a statement that while it remained unclear what Republican would fill the second-place slot “voters will make a choice in May between two contrasting visions.”
“Our campaign is about moving past the Washington status quo and focusing on kitchen table issues like lowering prescription drug costs, making health care more affordable, strengthening our public schools and breaking the stranglehold special interests have on our politics,” Smith said.
On the GOP side, candidates for the full term also included former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos, who served a two-week prison sentence for lying to the FBI about his interactions with Russian intermediaries during the 2016 campaign. He trailed far back from the leaders.
The Democratic field also includes online news personality and progressive Cenk Uygur.
The district was long considered GOP terrain before Hill’s victory and like much of California, it has been growing gradually more Democratic in voter registration.
Democrats hold a 6-point registration edge in the district, which runs through northern Los Angeles County but also takes in a GOP-rich pocket in Ventura County, including the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.
In a telling sign of change, Hillary Clinton carried the district by nearly 7 points in the 2016 presidential election. Two years later, Hill claimed what was then the last Republican-held House seat anchored in Los Angeles County with a 9-point win.
Of the state’s 53 congressional seats, only six are held by the GOP, with two vacancies, including the 25th District.