Politicos throughout California are closely awaiting the outcome of the redistricting for federal and state seats. Per a decision last week by the state Supreme Court, what is known is the nonpartisan California Citizens Redistricting Commission must issue preliminary maps by in a month-and-a-half on Nov. 15 and final maps by Dec. 27.
Because California’s number of Congressional districts will also shrink from 53 to 52, the electoral boundaries of the state’s few swing U.S. House districts will be closely watched. The most dramatic changes are expected in Southern California – especially Los Angeles County – where population changes were most dramatic and possibly the Central Valley.
Currently, the 53-seat California House delegation features 42 Democrats and 11 Republicans, and any break from the status quo gets the state GOP excited. This includes hoping redistricting throws them some positive new map news here and there. However based on new recent data, their hopes for an improved federal map continues to grow dimmer and dimmer.
MORE BAD GOP RECALL NEWS
First, the CAGOP had hoped the recall election might change its dismal fortunes statewide, but the opposite in fact happened. Not only did Gov. Gavin Newsom improve on his 23-point landslide victory in 2018, but the number of registered CAGOP voters actually declined over the previous six months by 48,639. Meanwhile, Democrats added another 37,753 registrations to their nearly 2-to-1 advantage statewide.
In fact, in only 10 of California’s 58 counties did Republicans experience a net increase in registrations as compared to the Democrats. Unfortunately, only two of these counties feature more than 40,000 registered voters: Butte with 125,269 and Imperial with 85,975. And most of the gains were 120-vote differentials or less.
SWINGING DEMS’ WAY
But most true political strategists are most focused on the few Congressional swing districts out there. On paper, based on current district boundaries and 2020 results, the four truest “swing” districts are all currently held by Republicans. Each was won by 2.2 or less points, including Mike Garcia’s CA-21 where he won by a mere 335 votes.
The National Republican Congressional Committee has also publicly targeted four California House districts held by Democrats. However, the incumbent in each of these districts won by more than 6 points in 2020, so they aren’t in that true competitive range, at least pre-redistricting. Plus, in all eight of these districts, Democrats enjoyed a net voter registration advantage in the six months prior to the recall vote.
In Valadao’s CA-21, the net gain for Democrats was only 609, but this was almost half Valadao’s winning 2020 margin. In freshman Young Kim’s CA-39 that straddles Orange, Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties, the Dem’s 3,134 net registration gain is 76% of her 1.2-point margin in 2020, and in Michelle Kim’s Orange County district (CA-48), Dem registration gains ate away 3,000 of her 8,000 vote margin. in 2020.
And if not for the hope of redistricting help, Garcia would be the most disappointed Republican. He beat Christy Smith by just 335 votes, but Dems netted 3,712 registered voters this year so far in his current district.
But this is just the tip of the tension iceberg for Garcia. That’s because with California’s lost House seat certain to come from the L.A. area, state redistricting experts are currently giving even odds Garcia will be the odd incumbent out with possibly most of his Republican base in Ventura County being absorbed by Kevin McCarthy’s district to the north.
Another area that doesn’t favor Republicans falls unfortunately into a very macabre category. Specifically, we’re talking about COVID deaths which have disproportionately more impacted on right-leaning voters this year. A trend that may continue through the November 2022 midterms.
Putting exact numbers on it is difficult, but since June, the highly contagious Delta variant has surged incredibly among unvaccinated Californians and those who equate masking, social distancing and other mitigation measures as infringements of their freedom. These have been predominantly right of center voters. If one assumes just a 60-40 split (which could be on the low side) of right-leaning to left-leaning voters among the casualties since the start of the pandemic, this would appear to remove hundreds of more potential Republican votes in those eight swing districts.
Each of these deaths should be mourned, but in close races, the harsh reality is this trend could prove significant in historically narrow races like Garcia’s and Valadao’s districts.
The one Democratic seat that could give some state Democrats pause is centrist Josh Harder’s CA-10 that includes Modesto and Turlock. He first wrestled this seat from a Republican incumbent in the 2018 Blue Wave by 4.6 points. He extended this to a double-digit win in 2020, but this is deceptive. That’s because his 2020 opponent was stripped of his CAGOP endorsement and main fundraising sources after bigoted social media posts surfaced.
Plus a slight majority of Harder’s Stanislaus and San Joaquin county voters were in favor of recalling Newsom. So if there is a California district where the GOP’s nationalized anti-Biden/Pelosi messaging could work, this could be it – especially with a little GOP-favorable redistricting help.
Also worth watching is Democrat John Garamendi’s vast CA-3 in northern California. The NRCC is currently targeting the district, and second-time rival Tamika Hamilton believes a chance exists that redistricting could benefit her if the district sheds some deep blue parts of Yolo County (West Sacramento and Davis) and expands into redder northern counties. However, the Cook Political Report speculated a different set of boundary changes that would actually make Garamendi more susceptible to a challenge from his left than right.
Though everything this year in California appears to point to Democrats being in good position to win many of those Republican-held swing seats, the biggest variable remains those final district maps. Because the commission is nonpartisan, a surprise or two that helps the CAGOP cannot be ruled out.