By the Numbers: California House races & voter registration update

Last week, the California Secretary of State office issued its latest statewide voter registration figures. These come with less than a month before the state sends out mail-in primary ballots. For data politicos, this provides extra data points for assessing trends going into the June 7 primary and Nov. 8 general election.

At a high level, Democrats for a second straight report have 5 million more registered voters statewide than the Republicans, or almost twice as many. That’s 10,300,858 registered Dems (or 46.7% of all voters) to 5,271,605 for the GOP (23.9%). The GOP figure did tick up minutely since the January report; however, they add just 464 registered voters to the Democrats’ 25,487 increase. And here’s how the data compares to two years ago right before the 2020 primary:

As always, data is not destiny. Voter registration data gives no indication which party’s voters may turn out in greater proportion or – just as importantly – how that large, crucial category of No Party Preference and Independents (NPP/Indy) may vote in each individual race.


Still at the Congressional level, the data continues to indicate the GOP will be on the defensive and hard-pressed to maintain all of its 11 currently held House seats. This is important as every House seat picked up by the Dems in California is an additional seat the GOP must make up somewhere else to take back the U.S. House. (For a snapshot of State Assembly and State Senate races see this useful piece by Politico’s California Playbook.)


Using the latest data, here are some updates on eight California House races that should be watched more closely:


Northern California/Sacramento


CA-3: Kevin Kiley-Kermit Jones-Sheriff Jones race

Let’s start in Sacramento’s northeast suburbs and the Sierras with an open seat that oddly few in the political press have been following but likely will end up highly competitive and expensive. This is the CA-3 comprising Folsom, Orangevale, Placer County, the Tahoe region and eight less populous counties.

It’s the redesigned successor to the district currently represented by Republican Rep. Tom McClintock. The old version featured a 12-point registration advantage for the GOP. But redistricting narrowed this to 5 points, and in 2020, Trump would have won this district by just 1.9 points, indicating a slight blue lean of NPP/Indy voters. So McClintock looks smart jumping to the new CA-5 to the south and back to a 12-point GOP registration advantage.


Into this incumbent void leapt Kevin Kiley of Rocklin, who spends much of his time looking for new political ladders to scale. He ran unsuccessfully for State Senate in 2020 and then as a replacement candidate in the 2021 Newsom Recall. Going for Kiley, he already represents much of the CA-3 electorate in the State Assembly. But instead of being a Top 2 lock in the primary, he faces an active challenge from Republican Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones. (The other Top 2 slot will surely go to the very promising, well-funded moderate Democrat and Navy veteran Dr. Kermit Jones.)

But if Kiley tops Sheriff Jones in the primary, watch out for a stalking horse issue. This is Kiley’s decision last year to appear as a featured speaker at a rally co-organized by an extremist who had weeks earlier called for Americans to arm for civil war. Other speakers featured that day also had connections with a hate group, QAnon and militias. Kiley has avoided questions from this publication on this for more than a year. But Dr. Jones regularly mentions it in his talking points and messaging to supporters. So look out for it to become a general election issue if Kiley prevails over the other Jones in the race – Sheriff Jones.


Central Valley


CA-21: Devin Nunes’s former seat

Republicans have largely conceded this seat. Current CA-16 Congressman Jim Costa (D) is sliding into this district, and it has been redistricted highly Democratic. This is reflected in the current 17-point Democratic registration advantage.

CA-22: David Valadao-Rudy Salas

Dairy farmer David Valadao is the rare Republican who won his House seat in 2016 and then reclaimed it in 2020 despite his constituents also going double digits for both Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden. So Republicans might hope he is impervious to any demographic shifts; however, this will be challenged as nonpartisan redistricting shifted his seat from a 7-point Democratic registration advantage to 17 points currently.


But note, Valadao won in 2020 by just 1,500 votes. Plus he is opposed by State Assemblyman Rudy Salas, who may be more reflective of a district that has become a majority-minority Hispanic district, going from 35% Hispanic to 53%. But given Valadao’s past electoral facility and incumbency advantages (money, voter familiarity), this is a definite “don’t count your chickens too soon” race for the Salas camp.


Southern California


CA-27: Mike Garcia-Christy Smith rematch

Mike Garcia is the lone Republican Congressman in Los Angeles County, having been elected to a full term in 2020 by just 333 votes. To do this, he impressively overcame a then 7½-point Democratic registration advantage to barely beat Christy Smith. But he lost highly Republican Simi Valley in redistricting. This stretched the Democratic registration advantage to now 13 points. Plus, the former district’s 29% NPP/Indy share has dropped to 19%, so there are fewer wildcard voters in play than before. So this district does seem largely Smith’s to lose.


CA-41: Ken Calvert (R)

Riverside County Republican Ken Calvert has seen his district’s former 6½-point GOP registration advantage disappear to “even” in the new CA-41. But those incumbency advantages and a generally right-leaning NPP/Indy segment in the district will make it tough for whichever Democratic opponent makes Top 2.

Then again, Calvert is one of the few candidates in California still employing a widely denounced prechecked recurring donation box tactic for online donations (left). The head of the Federal Election Commission has called it “almost like theft.” So might this be an unforced error that gets local traction in a close race?


CA-45: Michelle Steel (R)

Of the two freshman Orange County Congresswomen – Michelle Steel and Young Kim – the more vulnerable is Steel. With the inclusion of parts of Los Angles County, Steel has seen her former 5-point GOP registration advantage swing to 5 points for Democrats in the new CA-45.


Also like Calvert, Steel employs a prechecked online donation box. (NOTE: Valadao and Young also were found to employ the same tactic last year, but both turned it off not long after SactoPolitico reported on it.) But does the Navy Reserve officer and community college board president Jay Chen have what it takes to withstand well-funded attacks from the Steel campaign? These have already begun, but if he can, it could deflate conservative faith in their new playbook of red baiting and Critical Race Theory.


CA-47: Katie Porter (D)

On paper, Katie Porter might look vulnerable, and the GOP lists her as a 2022 target. She has moved slightly south to the new CA-47 that stretches from Huntington to Laguna beaches and inland to part of Irvine. It features only one-third of Porter’s current constituency and barely more than a 1-point Democratic registration advantage. But Porter’s current district actually featured a slight GOP registration advantage in 2020, and despite national pundit talk about how radioactive Progressive positions are in purple districts, Porter won re-election by 7 points. This dispelled the possibility that her 4-point 2018 win was a Blue Wave-caused one hit wonder.


Indicative of Porter’s electoral strength: The new CA-47 most overlaps with Steel’s current district, but instead of running head-to-head against Porter, Steel chose to move inland to the CA-45 (Cerritos/Garden Grove/Fountain Valley). Combined with Porter’s more than $16 million in cash on hand, it’s hard to see former Assemblyman and CAGOP-endorsed Scott Baugh having much chance to topple the walk-her-talk Porter. Watch whether GOP investment in flipping the district diminishes if Porter breaks 50% of the primary, as she did in 2020.


CA-49: Mike Levin (D)

The GOP has also targeted Mike Levin in the new CA-49, another district with lots of beachfront that stretches from San Clemente to Oceanside. However, Levin’s district went from voting for Biden by 7 points to the new configuration having voted by 11 points. Like Porter, Levin is another Democrat from the Blue Wave Class of 2018. He won first by 13 points and then 6 points in 2020. In terms of voter registration, in 2020 Democrats enjoyed a small 1½-point advantage, and this has increased slightly to 2½ points.


On the red side of the ballot, the CAGOP has again endorsed conservative financial planner and former San Juan Capistrano mayor Brian Maryott. He lost to Levin by 6 points in 2020, but Maryott must first get past a primary challenge from Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett. Orange County contributes 42% of registered Republicans in the district, and Bartlett has been endorsed by Steel and 2021 recall replacement candidate/talk show host Larry Elder.


BOTTOM LINE


The two seats held by Democrats and targeted by the GOP – Porter and Levin’s seats – don’t look like probable flips at the moment. On the other hand, the six GOP districts Republicans desperately want to hold look far more competitive for Democrats. While it seems improbable for the Republicans to lose all six, a loss of three or four is certainly within reason.


But a caveat to all this. After the June 7 primary, five months remain until the general election. So much can happen in every race.


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