(CN) – Closely watched congressional races in California – including in many traditional Republican strongholds with changing demographics – could lead the “blue wave” Democrats are angling for to take control of the House of Representatives Nov. 6.
With 23 seats needed to gain control of the House, Democrats hope several swing districts in California where residents represented by Republican congress members voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election could help flip as many as 14 Republican-held congressional seats in The Golden State.
The importance of the California House races isn’t lost on the Democratic Party’s top leaders – former President Barack Obama and former Vice President Joe Biden both stumped for candidates in California this election season.
A record 19 million Californians have registered to vote, an increase of nearly 1.5 million from the 2014 midterms, according to California Secretary of State Alex Padilla. California’s June primary saw more voters turn out than the last two decades of primary elections.
University of San Diego Political Science professor Carl Luna said the seats in California are also the most competitive they’ve been for at least two decades.
According to Luna, nine of California’s 53 seats could switch parties, which he says is more than any other state.
“If the ‘blue wave’ on the East Coast and Midwest doesn’t materialize Tuesday, Democrats will have to look to a California tsunami in these nine districts to save their House hopes,” Luna said in an interview.
“A Democratic sweep of these districts would mean that suburban voters – a stalwart of GOP politics since the 1980s – are turning against the party of Trump, which will have major implications for 2020,” he added.
Luna pointed to two San Diego County congressional seats up for grabs – the 49th and 50th districts – that could turn blue Tuesday.
The 49th district in California – currently held by Representative Darrell Issa who chose not to run for reelection – straddles north San Diego and south Orange counties.
While the district has been a traditional Republican stronghold, Luna pointed out north San Diego has been “blueing” for years due to changing demographics including more women and voters of color while “solid red” Orange County is now “purpling” for the same reasons.
Following President Donald Trump’s election, constituents in Issa’s district held weekly “Resist Trump Tuesday” protests at the congressman’s district office in Vista, California, continuing to meet even after Issa announced his retirement.
Many of the protesters are now focusing their energy on campaigning for groups like Flip the 49th and for Democratic hopeful, environmental attorney Mike Levin.
Republican contender Diane Harkey, a member of the State Board of Equalization, won the most votes during the June primary, but is now trailing Levin, according to a live poll by The New York Times.
In San Diego’s 50th district, Representative Duncan Hunter is running for re-election despite a federal indictment filed against him and his wife and campaign manager Margaret Hunter in August charging the couple with 60 counts of misusing $250,000 in campaign funds.
The couple pleaded not guilty and is out on bond. Hunter won his bid to postpone the case until after the midterm election, with the next court hearing scheduled for Dec. 3.
While recent polls still show Hunter likely to win, his opponent – 29-year-old first-time candidate Ammar Campa-Najjar – has nipped at his heels amidst public outcry over Hunter’s campaign’s use of racist rhetoric aimed at the Mexican-Palestinian Campa-Najjar. One ad ties Campa-Najjar with his grandfather, who masterminded a terror attack in Germany in 1972. Campa-Najjar has publicly disavowed his grandfather, who died 16 years before Campa-Najjar was born.
North in Orange County, Republican incumbent Dana Rohrabacher of the 48th district also faces a tough race due to changing demographics in the Huntington Beach community he represents, where Hispanic and Asian residents are the majority.
Democrat Harley Rouda has given Rohrabacher one of his first challenging races in years.
Similarly, Republican Mimi Waters who represents the 45th district in Irvine is facing off with University of California, Irvine law professor Katie Porter, who could have a better chance with the rapidly growing Asian and Latino population in the region.
The race to replace retiring Republican Representative Ed Royce – who represents the 39th district encompassing parts of Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino counties – has shaped up to be an interesting referendum on the changing demographics of political parties.
Republican candidate Young Kim told reporters “she is a different kind of Republican.” The South Korean immigrant said she wants young people brought to the U.S. without legal documentation to be allowed to stay but that she wants to secure the border.
Democratic challenger Gil Cisneros said he supports immigration reform and that cracking down on the border would be “a big waste of money.”
In the 25th district, which covers parts of Los Angeles and Ventura counties, Democrat Katie Hill challenges Republican incumbent Steve Knight.
A former Los Angeles police officer, Knight has been somewhat out-of-step with his colleagues on Capitol Hill when it comes to immigration – he introduced a bill over the summer to end family separation at the border and has called for immigration reform.
Hill also leaned toward moderation on immigration at a recent debate, saying she believed “partisan politics have failed us” when it comes to border security and immigration policy.
Further north in the 22nd district – which covers Fresno and Tulare counties in the Central Valley – Democratic challenger Andrew Janz is fighting to be the first Democrat elected to represent the deep red district since 2000.
But election website FiveThirtyEight forecasts Republican incumbent Representative Devin Nunes to have a 95 percent chance of victory, mostly because the district is over 15 points “more Republican than the nation overall.”
Nunes won the June primary by 26 points, but an LA Times poll conducted this month sliced the incumbent’s lead over his Democratic opponent to just eight.
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