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California has no shortage of key House races on Tuesday

Daniela Altimari, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in Political News

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 Barbara 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.

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