(CN) – By the end of Election Day, it was clear the much-ballyhooed blue wave had indeed washed control of the House into Democrats’ hands and wiped dozens of Republican incumbents across the country out of office. Unsurprisingly, the president and many pundits tried to downplay the scope of the Democrat tsunami, even with millions of ballots uncounted and handfuls of races still undecided in California.
Yet over the last two weeks the Democratic wave tumbled and ultimately pried almost every GOP seat left in the Golden State, even claiming conservative strongholds in farming districts and Orange County.
President Donald Trump, who asked voters to “pretend” that he was on the ballot, accused the media of overhyping the Democrats’ gains and of ignoring the possibility that the GOP will likely pick up two seats in the U.S. Senate.
But the president’s tweets can’t hide his party’s monumental collapse in the Golden State: for the first time in decades, Democrats will control each of the seven districts in Orange County and 45 of the state’s 53 House seats.
“It moved from a blue wave to a very strong blue wave by the end of the counting process,” said Wesley Hussey, an associate professor of government at California State University, Sacramento. “Every single victory that the Democrats could have wanted in California happened.”
Rep. Eric Swalwell, a Democrat who represents parts of the San Francisco Bay Area and easily won re-election, says the results prove voters want the House to push back on Trump’s “abuses of power.” He believes the California GOP sealed its own fate by voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act; in fact, he says Democrats could pick up two to four more seats in the state in 2020.
“It was a blue wave; it’s the largest pick-up for Democrats since Watergate,” Swalwell said in a phone interview. “I think in California, you saw incumbents who were just completely unwilling to stand up to the president and were willing to go along with the president to take away health care protections.”
California’s new delegation will feature a collection of freshmen Democrats who must try to find common ground with the Republican-controlled Senate in order to produce real change in Congress – particularly since they come from districts that can’t yet be called fully blue, and all will be up for re-election in 2020.
Josh Harder, District 10
Like Swalwell, Congressman-elect Josh Harder is certain Republican incumbents failed by not making health care a central focus of their campaigns.
In District 10, which covers swaths of California’s agriculture-rich Central Valley, nearly 50 percent of residents are on some sort of Medicaid, according to Harder. Wisely, Harder ran on a platform of expanding Medicare with a promise to target monopolies in the pharmaceutical industry.
The 32-year-old Central Valley native and venture capitalist-turned-junior college professor says he was inspired to run by his brother, who was born 10 weeks early and required surgeries for a pre-existing condition.
“Our campaign was all about making sure folks had access to health care,” Harder told Courthouse News three days after the race was called and he’d ousted incumbent Republican Rep. Jeff Denham.
While Denham attempted to paint Harder as a political newcomer and Bay Area liberal, his message didn’t go far enough with Central Valley voters to earn a fifth term.