LOS ANGELES – It has been more than two decades since a Republican took over a congressional district under the control of the Democratic Party in California. This year the Republicans took four.
The astonishing victories of GOP leaders in California speak of a return after years of correction on the brink of irrelevance in a highly democratic state. Although President Donald Trump lost California in a historic landslide, Republicans believe their recovery in the four counties they lost just two years ago shows the way forward – one that focuses on recruiting different candidates and eavesdropping on voter dissatisfaction with California.
As much of the country fought around Trump, the winning candidates for the GOP faced high taxes in the state, rising crime rates, homelessness and aggressive coronavirus restrictions. The list of candidates was astonishingly diverse for the party, which is mostly predominantly white: two South Korean immigrants, both women and two men who are the sons of the parents of immigrants from Mexico and Portugal.
Certainly, the GOP has a long way to go. The Republican last won a statewide race in California 14 years ago, and Democrats created a nearly 2: 1 advantage among registered voters over the GOP. Yet California Republicans who are too familiar with misery on election day now see a template for further incursions.
“We didn’t get here overnight and we don’t expect to fix it overnight. But I think this shows a turning point, ”said GOP President Jessica Millan Patterson, a Hispanic who emphasized building a party that looks like California, in which no demographic group represents a majority.
The foundation for the victories was the engagement of different, talented candidates, but the party “won in matters and we in ideas,” she said. “Democrats didn’t want to talk about their file here in California, when you have the most homeless people, the biggest poverty, the most people going” to other states.
Two years ago, Republican state leaders admitted the party nearly collapsed after Democrats swept seven seats in the GOP-controlled House, including four in whole or in part in the one-time conservative Orange County stronghold.
Victories at the 2020 GOP were among the results that indicated that many voters in the country – despite its liberal-leaning reputation and Democrat-dominated legislature – are uncomfortable getting too involved with the political left. Some congressional Democrats blame party losses across the U.S. for their inability to counter Republican attacks by labeling them as “socialists” in line with liberal extremes.
Voters rejected an organized attempt to partially remove the state’s property tax, backed by labor. The attempt to establish affirmative action was seriously defeated. And Uber, Lyft and other application-based eavesdropping and delivery services have prevailed over unions with a proposal to classify drivers as independent suppliers who can choose their working hours, rather than as employees assigned to them.
All of these proposals were highlighted and opposed by successful GOP candidates.
However, there is no denying that the country in which approximately one in eight Americans lives is still a democratic feud. President-elect Joe Biden defeated Trump with over 5 million votes, while Democrats encouraged their overwhelming majority in the state Senate and retained supremacy in the Assembly.
Even with their victories, Republicans hold only 11 of the state’s 53 seats. And the newly conquered districts “remain incredibly vulnerable to Republicans in 2022,” said Andy Orellana, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Democrats also convincingly took three seats snatched in 2018, including the 45th Republican-facing district in the heart of Orange County, where the rising Democratic star Rep. Katie Porter recorded a 7-point victory.
Still, Republicans are encouraged as they look to 2022, when Democrat Governor Gavin News is expected to seek a second term. The U.S. Senate headquarters will be on the ballots along with other offices across the state, and everything will be held by Democrats.
Republicans see the target. Newsom is battling a virus-defeated economy, widespread dissatisfaction with changing COVID restrictions in the state and its credibility is tarnished: he broke state rules when he and his wife were caught eating 10 more people at a French Laundry restaurant, sitting nearby, without mask. Newsom has repeatedly told Californians to stay home and wear masks.
“I think we have a real chance to win all over the state again,” Patterson said.
Biden, despite dominating the state, had no hair on key House races.
In the 25th district north of Los Angeles, Republican MP Mike Garcia held a victory against Democrat Christy Smith with 333 votes as he ran as Trump’s Apostle in the district with 7.5 points of Democratic registration. The son of a Mexican immigrant father, a former Navy fighter pilot, won a seat in a snap election in May following the resignation of former Democratic MP Katie Hill.
In the 21st Democratic District of Central Valley, Republican David Valadao, a dairy farmer and son of Portuguese immigrants, regained the place he lost in 2018 from the Democratic Republic of TJ Cox. Valadao backed Trump, but also stressed that he had broken with the White House, including criticizing the administration for separating families at the border.
Young Kim defeated Democratic MP Gil Cisneros in a rematch in the Democratic Bow of the 39th District anchored in Orange County. A former lawmaker, she was born in South Korea and grew up in Guam.
In the coastal, Republican-minded 48th District, Chairman of the Board of Supervisors Michelle Steel appears to have benefited from the unrest over state restrictions on coronavirus, which the issue highlighted in her campaign against the Democratic Republic of Harley Road. Huntington Beach, in the heart of the county, was a hotbed of opposition to the rules.
Steel and Kim join Washington State from Marilyn Strickland State as the first Korean Americans elected to Congress.
Democrats sought to nationalize races and nominate candidates for the GOP home to join Trump, while Republicans highlighted “issues that people cared about the most and that affected their daily lives,” said Sam Oh, who led the winning campaigns for Steel and Kim.
Rose Kapolczynski, a longtime adviser to former Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, attributed to Republicans the possibility of recruiting capable candidates. In Orange County, “voters saw a different face from the Republican Party in Steel and Kim,” she said. It was a different year from 2018, when Trump was not on the ballot, and many voters sent a message with their votes in the House, contributing to the Democratic route.
Looking ahead, she warned that other Democrats in narrowly divided constituencies could be vulnerable, but added that Republican victories are isolated and the GOP brand remains badly tarnished.
“When things go wrong, they blame the people in charge. And when there is a credible alternative, it is the ingredients to get rid of the existing ones, ”she said.
But “the open question is whether Republicans can change their brand across the state and overcome the very damaging history that led them to defeat after defeat at the state level.”