California has no shortage of key House races on Tuesday

Daniela Altimari, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON — From the farming communities of the Central Valley to the beaches of Orange County, California is home to a number of competitive House races whose outcomes could determine which party controls the chamber.

Despite its deep blue leanings, the Golden State has emerged as a House battleground where politicians from both parties are hitting familiar themes. Democrats say Republicans in California will walk in lockstep with Donald Trump and conservatives in Congress to further restrict abortion and contribute to general dysfunction in Washington, while the GOP is hitting Democrats on fears of rising crime, economic unease and border policies.

Also worth watching are primaries for seven open seats; five are rated Solid Democratic, one is rated Safe Republican and one is a Toss-up, according to Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales. Several of these contests have drawn an abundance of candidates who view a run for a vacant seat in a politically safe district as the first step in what could potentially be a long career in Congress.

Beyond the key races described below, the state will also choose nominees for two races where incumbents’ jobs are on the line: The open Senate seat, for which candidates include Democratic Reps. Adam B. Schiff, Katie Porter and Barabara Lee; and in the 22nd District, where a super PAC aligned with the House GOP leadership has been spending money to ensure that Rep. David Valadao makes it to the general election.

Under California’s primary rules, the top two finishers, regardless of party, will secure a place on the November ballot. Here are some races to watch:

Battleground incumbents

3rd District: In a sprawling district that stretches from Lake Tahoe to Death Valley, Republican freshman Rep. Kevin Kiley faces two opponents: Democrat Jessica Morse, former deputy secretary at the California Natural Resources Agency, and Robert Smith, an operations director who is not running with a party. Kiley had more than $2 million in his campaign account as of mid-February; Morse, who was endorsed by EMILY’s List, had about $660,000. Inside Elections rates the race Likely Republican.

9th District: Democratic Rep. Josh Harder is running against three Republicans in a district centered on Stockton: the city’s mayor, Kevin Lincoln, engineer Khalid Jeffrey Jafri and athletic performance coach John McBride. Republicans are touting Lincoln, who is Mexican American and Black, as a candidate who can reach the district’s growing population of nonwhite voters. The National Republican Congressional Committee put Harder on its target list, but Inside Elections rates the race Solid Democratic. Lincoln had $224,000 on hand, compared with Harder’s $2.87 million. The other Republicans did not file fundraising reports.

13th District: With two candidates for two spots, the primary will formalize a race both parties are gearing up to fight. Freshman John Duarte, a Republican from Modesto, is locked in a rematch with Democrat Adam Gray, a former member of the California Assembly. Duarte won by fewer than 600 votes in 2022, the GOP’s closest margin of victory in a district Biden captured in 2020, and Democrats view this battleground as key to their hopes of regaining the House. Gray is part of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s “Red to Blue” program, bringing extra resources and attention to the race, which is rated as a Toss-up. In mid-February, Gray had $468,385 to Duarte’s $1.4 million.

27th District: Republican Rep. Mike Garcia defeated the same Democratic opponent three times in a row, but this year, he faces a well-funded political newcomer in George Whitesides, the former CEO of the space tourism company Virgin Galactic. Whitesides put $1.3 million into his campaign, but the Democrat also has proved to be an effective fundraiser: All of the $575,000 his campaign has taken in since Jan. 1 came from donors, including $102,000 from those giving less than $200. One of the few challengers with more campaign cash than his opponent, Whitesides had $2.5 million on hand on Feb. 14, about $1 million more than Garcia. The race is rated a Toss-up.

40th District: Republican Rep. Young Kim faces two Democrats in an Orange County-based district that Biden narrowly carried in 2020. Kim, one of the first Korean-American members of Congress, has held the seat since 2021. Democrat Allyson Muñiz Damikolas, an engineer and member of the Tustin school board, has the support of BOLD PAC, the campaign arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, as well as EMILY’s List. Retired fire captain Joe Kerr, who has never held political office, loaned his campaign $869,000 and had nearly $80,000 on hand, compared with Muñiz Damikolas’ $55,000. Kim had $2.5 million. The race is rated Likely Republican.

41st District: In 2022, Democrat Will Rollins narrowly lost to Republican Rep. Ken Calvert in a district that had become more competitive for Democrats because of redistricting. Rollins, a former federal prosecutor, is trying again. He’s raised more money than Calvert, the dean of the California delegation. But both candidates have sizable campaign accounts, with Rollins reporting $2.4 million on hand and Calvert $2.3 million. Registered nurse Anna Nevenic, a Democrat, is also on the ballot. The race is rated Lean Republican.

45th District: Four Democrats are trying to unseat Republican Rep. Michelle Steel in Orange County. Democrats have a voter registration edge in the district, which has a large population of Asian Americans. Garden Grove Council Member Kim Nguyen-Penaloza, who is Vietnamese and Mexican American, was endorsed by BOLD PAC and various labor unions and had $30,000 on hand. Legislative analyst Cheyenne Hunt, who at 26 is seeking to become the second Gen Z member of Congress, had $134,000 and loaned her campaign $107,000. Derek Tran, a worker’s rights advocate, had $66,000. Steel’s fundraising has far outpaced the Democratic field, and she had close to $2.9 million in her campaign account.


49th District: Four Republicans are hoping to oust Rep. Mike Levin, a three-term Democrat from San Juan Capistrano. They include businesswoman Margarita Wilkinson, small businessman Matt Gunderson, veterans advocate Kate Monroe and auto technology executive Sheryl Adams. Wilkinson has put nearly $1.5 million of her own money into her campaign, while Gunderson put in $700,000. Levin, who is being targeted by national Republicans, had $1.2 million on hand. The race is rated Likely Democratic.

Open battleground seat

47th District: The race to succeed Porter in Orange County has emerged as one of the hardest-fought and nastiest primary campaigns this cycle. On the Democratic side, state Sen. Dave Min has accused grassroots activist Joanna Weiss of profiting off the pain of sex abuse victims because her husband, an attorney, represented the Catholic Diocese of Orange County. Weiss has denied the allegations and sought to focus attention on Min’s drunken driving arrest last year. Weiss has the backing of EMILY’s List, while Min snagged the early endorsement of Porter. The leading Republican contender is Scott Baugh, a former state lawmaker who narrowly lost to Porter in 2022 despite being outspent $28 million to $3 million. The race is rated as Tilt Democratic. Outside spending is approaching $6.2 million, with the biggest chunk, almost $4.8 million, coming from pro-Israel groups to attack Min and support Weiss.

Open red seats

20th District: In a crowded race in the Central Valley, Assemblymember Vince Fong has picked up two key endorsements that set him apart from the pack. Fong has the backing of former President Donald Trump and former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who represented the district for 17 years. Before McCarthy stepped down in December, Fong had been running for reelection to the Assembly, and he faced a legal hurdle when California’s secretary of state challenged the legality of his congressional campaign, arguing that he couldn’t run for two offices at the same time. But in December, a judge ruled that Fong could proceed. A slew of other candidates are running in one of California’s reddest districts, including Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux, a Republican, and teacher Marisa Wood, a Democrat. In addition to Tuesday’s primary, which picks nominees for the November election to a full term, they will also vote in a special election on March 19 to fill the remainder of McCarthy’s term.

Open blue seats

12th District: With Lee running for Senate, the East Bay seat she’s held since 1998 has drawn seven Democratic candidates, along with two Republicans. Lateefah Simon, a member of the Bay Area Rapid Transit board and recipient of a MacArthur “genius” fellowship, was endorsed by Lee in addition to Gov. Gavin Newsom and Sens. Alex Padilla and Laphonza Butler. Other Democrats running include Alameda Vice Mayor Tony Daysog and Jennifer Tran, a college professor.

16th District: Nine Democrats and two Republicans are seeking to succeed retiring Democratic Rep. Anna G. Eshoo in this Solid Democratic seat in the heart of Silicon Valley. The list of Democrats includes Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian; Evan Low, a member of the state Assembly; former San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo; Peter Dixon, the co-founder of a cybersecurity company; and Julie Lythcott-Haims, a member of the Palo Alto City Council. Eshoo is backing Simitian, while Lythcott-Haims has the backing of EMILY’s List. Dixon has put about $1.4 million of his own money into his campaign. Republicans Peter Ohtaki, a financial management executive, and small-business owner Karl Ryan are also on the ballot. Outside groups have spent more than $2.5 million in the race, including $1.3 million by Next Generation Veteran Fund to support Dixon; $548,000 by several groups backing Low; $248,000 by Part of the Solution PAC to support Simitian; and $409,000 by Neighbors for Results backing Liccardo.

29th District: Rep. Tony Cárdenas announced in November that he would not seek reelection and endorsed his fellow Democrat, Assemblymember Luz Rivas. She’s also picked up the support of Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass, a former House member. Democrat Angélica Dueñas, a community organizer, and Republican Benny Bernal, a youth advocate, are also campaigning for the seat in the San Fernando Valley.

30th District: Schiff’s Senate run set off a dash among Democrats in a district that reaches from West Hollywood to Pasadena. Twelve Democrats, along with two Republicans and one independent, are running. The two candidates garnering the most attention are Assemblymember Laura Friedman and state Sen. Anthony Portantino. Another contender, “Boy Meets World” actor Ben Savage, put more than $1.3 million of his own money into the race as loans and contributions. Other Democrats include educator Nick Melvoin, West Hollywood Councilmember Sepi Shyne and Jirair Ratevosian, a public health advocate.

31st District: Ten candidates are running for a seat left open by the retirement of longtime Democratic Rep. Grace F. Napolitano. The Democratic field includes former Rep. Gil Cisneros, former Napolitano adviser Mary Ann Lutz, attorney Greg Hafif and state Sens. Bob Archuleta and Susan Rubio. Napolitano is backing Archuleta, while Cisneros has the support of BOLD PAC, the New Democrat Coalition Action Fund, the Congressional Asian American and Pacific Islander Caucus, and several labor unions. Several of the contenders have invested significant sums of their own money into their campaigns, including Cisneros, who won a $266 million lottery prize in 2010.

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