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Why Republicans are optimistic they can win back the California House seats they lost in 2018

Jennifer Haberkorn, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- Republicans are mounting an aggressive campaign to win back some of the seven California congressional seats they lost in 2018, a repudiation that turned the GOP into an endangered species in the state.

"We think California is incredibly important," said Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota, who leads the National Republican Congressional Committee, which is responsible for electing Republicans to Congress. "We will have a very active operation making sure that we're competitive."

Republicans predict the 2018 Democratic victories will prove to be short-lived, in part because the Democratic candidates who promised to become moderate lawmakers ended up supporting President Donald Trump's impeachment and have few major bipartisan legislative accomplishments to tout.

The battle -- which could answer whether California voters are done with the GOP or were merely expressing anger at Trump in 2018 -- is likely to play out in four of the most competitive districts.

Former Rep. David Valadao's campaign to unseat Rep. T.J. Cox in the Central Valley, for instance, is betting that voters feel a degree of buyer's remorse in unseating Valadao. Robert Jones, a consultant for Valadao, said there are some "voters who might say, 'Yes, we're dissatisfied with the president and we let that be known in 2018. But we didn't want David gone.'"

Democrats counter that the 2018 races reflected the long-term political realignment of a Republican Party that no longer includes moderates.

 

"Orange County didn't switch overnight," said Lucinda Guinn, executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the campaign organization for House Democrats. "What happened is the Republicans who represented those districts woke up one day and realized that they were no longer reflective of the communities that they were elected to represent."

The Republican attempt at a California comeback began early last year when the NRCC hired a state director -- Orange County native Sam Spencer. Jessica Millan Patterson, chairwoman of the California Republican Party, said it was the earliest she's seen national Republicans set up shop in the state.

In addition to recruiting candidates, Republicans are building a ground operation to try to counter Democrats' successful use of "ballot harvesting" in 2018.

The legal practice -- enacted in a 2016 law -- allows third parties, such as volunteers for political parties, to collect mail-in ballots from voters to drop them off at a polling place.

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