GOP Hangs On to California Congressional Seat Lost in 2018 ‘Blue Wave’

FILE – In this June 17, 2019, file photo, Assemblywoman Christy Smith, D-Santa Clarita, speaks in a session of the California Assembly in Sacramento, Calif. The fight for an open U.S. House seat in a swing district north of Los Angeles ended in Smith’s loss to incumbent Republican Mike Garcia. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

(CN) — Southern California congressman Mike Garcia narrowly fended off a second challenge by Democratic lawmaker Christy Smith and held on to the 25th Congressional District seat Monday.

Monday’s result narrows Democrats’ majority in the House to 222. The Republicans have 211 seats.

The Southern California high desert congressional seat is the fourth California Republicans reclaimed from Democrats following the 2018 “blue wave.” 

Smith, a California lawmaker who represents a large section of the district in the state Assembly, was neck-and-neck with Garcia in the polls for weeks after the general election as officials continued counting vote-by-mail ballots.

As of Monday, Smith trailed Garcia by just 405 votes, according to election data.

Smith said in a statement she would not be able to close the gap and that she was proud of her campaign, including its review of thousands of voter ballots that may have otherwise been thrown out.

“This is not the end result we fought for, but I am proud of the strong, grassroots campaign we ran,” Smith said in the statement. “We exhausted every possible option and did everything within our power to ensure that every voice in this election was heard. Nonetheless, we came up short.”

Garcia, a former Navy pilot and relative newcomer to politics, rode a wave of support from state and national GOP officials to succeed in the hotly contested race to represent a firmly purple district stretching across parts of Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

The Latino congressman has described himself as a patriot called to serve his constituents, not a “career politician.” 

Garcia’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the outcome. On his campaign Twitter account, Garcia posted a clip from the 1991 comedy “Hot Shots” in which a bad damaged Navy plane piloted by Charlie Sheen’s character beats the odds and lands safely.

Before the Nov. 3 election, Smith told reporters she believed her campaign was at an advantage due to the larger number of registered Democrats in the district and the increased use of vote-by-mail ballots. And Hillary Clinton’s victory over Trump in the district in the 2016 election was also a sign of an expected increase in voter turnout for Democrats, Smith said.

But those votes never materialized.

Smith had 169,059 votes while 169,464 voters pulled the lever for Garcia, according to California Secretary of State election data.

The GOP incumbent will continue to serve a district which has historically elected moderate Republicans but shocked the nation two years ago when it sent Democratic newcomer Katie Hill to Congress. Hill represented the district in Congress until 2019, when she resigned following publication of leaked photos of her relationship with a campaign aide.

Hill had defeated Republican Steve Knight in a closely watched 2018 election, part of the “blue wave” that secured Democrats’ control of the House.

Smith also flipped a seat that year from red to blue: California’s 38th Assembly District, which covers nearly 60% of the 25th Congressional District.

But this past May, Smith lost to Garcia in a special election to fill the congressional seat left vacant by Hill.

Over the past year of campaigning, the two candidates spent heavily on the race and sparred over a host of issues including their stance on support for small businesses, California labor law, health care and the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Garcia, a former executive at defense-systems company Raytheon, said in an interview in February his run for office was inspired by a “second calling to serve” after seeing Hill champion pro-immigrant policies and proposals that would raise taxes.

The district native has aligned his voting record in the House with the conservative agenda advanced by President Donald Trump and the Republican Party. 

In her campaign, Smith criticized Garcia’s alignment with Trump even after the president downplayed the severity of the Covid-19 outbreak before it swelled into a global pandemic.

Smith, who was endorsed by prominent Democrats across the country and by progressive community organizations, campaigned on a promise to push Congress to make health care affordable for residents.

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