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    Thomas Elias: California could again be key to determining control of the House
    • October 27, 2023

    Never has it been more clear than today that a majority of just a few, even one or two, votes in the House of Representatives can have massive effects on national policy and priorities.

    Republicans, with help from a few California districts, took over the House last year and essentially retired former Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who remains in Congress but as a mere rank-and-filer.

    Does anyone, for example, believe that President Biden’s possible impeachment would be the subject of hearings in the House today if Republicans were not in charge? That is, they’re in charge when they can choose a leader. If Democrats were still running the House, there would have been no dispute about expanding the federal debt ceiling, or preventing a government shutdown, and so on.

    A swing of just five votes toward the Democrats would change the status quo quickly, giving them a one-vote margin.

    The results almost exactly one year from today might hinge on a few seats won by narrow margins last year by candidates in California.

    For example, the GOP scored key wins in two Central Valley districts that some expected to go Democratic. Without those victories by John Duarte of Modesto and David Valadao of Hanford, today’s GOP margin would be far slimmer.

    Both those Republican wins were mild surprises, as the two districts involved, the 13th and 22nd, feature pluralities of Latino voters. Their failure to turn out in numbers comparable to 2018, when Democrats easily won the House, was one key to today’s Republican majority.

    In the 13th, Duarte won by just 600 votes out of 133,000, far less than 1 percent. He will again face former Democratic Assemblyman Adam Gray of Merced, who will try to make up those 600 votes not only among Latinos, but from students at the burgeoning UC Merced campus.

    Just down Highway 99, Valadao won in the 22nd district by 3 percent over another former Democratic state legislator, Rudy Salas. Like the 13th, this district voted for Biden, but here too, the Latino turnout cost the Democrats.

    Elsewhere, some count Democrat Dave Min, an Orange County state senator under fire since his May arrest for drunk driving, as a sure loser. Min, a labor union ally in the Legislature, admitted to his violation. Said Min, “… To my family, constituents and supporters, I am so deeply sorry. (But) I will not let this…distract from our work…”

    It’s unknown whether voters in the very tight 47th District, won in the last three elections by Democrat Katie Porter, will forgive Min. Porter, running for the seat long held by the late Democrat Diane Feinstein in the U.S. Senate, has not withdrawn her endorsement of Min.

    If Min wins the primary, he will likely face Scott Baugh, 61, who once represented a coastal Orange County Assembly district. This could be one of California’s tightest races.

    The difference in outcomes in the Central Valley districts and the 47th demonstrates why Democrats must turn out Latino voters. Porter did this in 2022;  Gray and Salas did not.

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    Another threatened Democrat is Josh Harder of Tracy, challenged by Stockton Mayor Kevin Lincoln. But Harder has beaten opponents seemingly stronger than Lincoln.

    Some have expressed doubts about the political survival of first-termer Kevin Kiley in the 3rdDistrict and two-termer Mike Garcia in the 27th.

    But Kiley, who won by more than 6 percent last time after running poorly as a potential replacement candidate in the 2021 recall election against Gov. Gavin Newsom, now looks safe in this district centered on the GOP stronghold of Placer County. Garcia, meanwhile, easily beat a challenge from former Democratic Assemblywoman Christy Smith last time out. But voter registration in his 27th district, centered on Santa Clarita, grows steadily more Democratic.

    Republicans, as usual, think they can beat three-term Democrat Mike Levin in the 49thDistrict, mainly in north San Diego County. But the GOP has run stronger-seeming candidates against Levin in other years than those now opposing him.

    If all goes according to form elsewhere, it could take just one or two Democratic takeaways here to swing the House back to their side. But nothing is certain in any of these swing districts.

    Email Thomas Elias at [email protected].

    ​ Orange County Register