Democrats wound up giving back four of the seven House seats they flipped from Republicans in 2018, but three of those involved surprisingly high levels of ticket-splitting rather than retrenchment at the presidential level. In the 25th District in northern Los Angeles County, Joe Biden’s 54-44 performance was an improvement on Hillary Clinton’s 50-44 showing, yet Republican Rep. Mike Garcia hung on to win a full term. However, he defeated Democrat Christy Smith by just 333 votes in their rematch—a margin of 0.1%, and far closer than his 55-45 win in a special election earlier this year.
The story was similar in the 39th District, which includes the San Gabriel Valley and northern Orange County. Biden scored a 54-44 win, a bit better than Clinton’s 51-43 take, but Republican Young Kim was nevertheless able to beat Democratic Rep. Gil Cisneros 50.6 to 49.4.
Biden actually slipped several points in the 21st District in the heavily agricultural Central Valley, winning 54-44 compared to Clinton’s wider 55-40 victory, but Republican David Valadao narrowly unseated Democratic Rep. TJ Cox 50.4 to 49.6. In each of these, Republican House candidates ran 9 to 10 points head of Donald Trump, indicating a sizable crossover vote in all three—a phenomenon both sides will want to study closely.
It was a different picture, however, in the 48th District, another seat in Orange County that Democrats were most worried about heading into the election—and with good reason, it turned out. Biden’s 50-48 margin was the same as Clinton’s 48-46 spread, and Republican Michelle Steel prevented Democratic Rep. Harley Rouda from winning a second term. Steel, though, only won 51-49, meaning she outran Trump by about four points, less than half of what Garcia, Kim, and Valadao all managed.
Amidst these setbacks, Democrats still hung on to three of their midterm pickups. The 10th District in the Modesto area backed Biden 50-47, which matched Clinton’s 49-46 showing there. However, freshman Rep. Josh Harder decisively beat Ted Howze 55-45 in a contest that attracted little outside attention once national and local Republicans retracted their endorsements of Howze after numerous bigoted social media posts of his surfaced.
Ticket-splitting went in the other direction in two southern California districts, meanwhile, though neither freshman Democrat had trouble winning. The 45th District in Orange County supported Biden 55-43 four years after backing Clinton 50-44, and Rep. Katie Porter won 53-47. Finally, Biden took the 49th District in the northern San Diego suburbs 55-43, another shift to the left from Clinton’s 50-44, while freshman Rep. Mike Levin prevailed 53-47.
While Biden’s 63-34 win statewide was superficially very similar to Clinton’s 62-32 victory, those toplines mask many differences. For starters, Biden’s record raw margin of 5.1 million votes was 833,000 votes greater than Clinton’s 4.3 million—which itself set the record at the time. Digging deeper, however, we can see that Democrats still lost ground in certain parts of the state. In fact, Biden’s share dipped double digits compared to Clinton’s in four districts: the 29th, 40th, 44th, and 51st.
This quartet shares something in common: All four seats are overwhelmingly Latino, a demographic that in many places shifted toward Trump. The district that saw the greatest movement was the 51st, in San Diego, which is over 70% Latino. Biden’s 67-31 win represented a 13-point drop from Clinton’s 72-23 performance, though with his district still solidly blue, Democratic Rep. Juan Vargas won re-election easily. All of these districts, in fact, remain firmly Democratic. It’s worth watching, though, to see if this trend continues, or whether it was a unique artifact of the 2020 elections, perhaps owing to Trump‘s status as an incumbent more than anything else.
At the other end of the scale, the district that saw the biggest gain for Democrats at the top of the ticket was the nearby 50th, located in inland San Diego County. Trump still carried it 53-45, but that was a 7-point decline from his 55-40 showing four years earlier. Given this district’s history as a rock-ribbed Republican enclave, former GOP Rep. Darrell Issa’s 54-46 victory over Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar in this year’s open-seat race was relatively close, suggesting this seat could be in play in the future.
Another district Republicans will need to keep an eye on is the 22nd, around Fresno, which Trump won 52-46. That was a few points closer than his 52-43 win in 2016, and Republican Rep. Devin Nunes’ 54-46 win represented a notable tightening after a career of racking up ginormous victories every year until the 2018 blue wave.
At the same time, a number of seats Democrats were once worried about at the start of the decade have now become safely blue. That includes the 7th, 26th, 36th, and 52nd, all of which Democrats flipped in 2012 after the last round of redistricting.
And of course, redistricting lies just ahead once more, meaning boundaries across the state are likely to shift dramatically. California will once again rely on an independent commission to draw new lines as it did for the first time following the 2010 census, and any new maps must gain the support of Democratic, Republican, and unaffiliated commissioners.
However, commissions like this one, which was created via ballot initiative, have been under legal attack by conservatives. In 2015, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of a similar commission in Arizona by just a 5-4 margin, and since then, the court has moved to the right. Should California’s commission get struck down, control over redistricting would return to the state’s heavily Democratic legislature.
● MA-Gov: Politico’s Stephanie Murray reports that former state Rep. Geoff Diehl, who was Team Red’s 2018 Senate nominee, is considering a primary challenge to Republican Gov. Charlie Baker. Diehl very much did not rule it out when asked, saying instead, “You know, you never say never to anything.” Baker himself has not yet announced his 2022 plans, though he’s been laying the groundwork for a potential campaign for a while.
Diehl, who lost to Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren 60-36, is an ardent Trump ally, while Baker refused to support Trump in either 2016 or 2020. However, while Diehl would again struggle in a general election in this very blue state, he might have an opening in a primary with Baker: A recent MassInc poll for the nonprofit The Barr Foundation gave Baker only a 54-40 favorable rating with his fellow Republicans compared to an 81-13 score with Democrats.
● NY-Gov: Lindsey Boylan, a one-time aide to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, accused her former boss on Sunday of sexually harassing her “for years,” though she declined to provide any specifics. Cuomo, a Democrat who has said he’ll run for a fourth term in 2022, denied the allegations.
● CA-21: Democratic Rep. TJ Cox, who lost his bid for a second term 50.4 to 49.6 to Republican David Valadao last month, says he’ll seek a rematch in 2022. If the pair make it past the top-two primary, that would set up their third straight face-off, dating back to Cox’s 2018 upset, which he won by the same 50.4 to 49.6 margin.
Cox won’t have the field to himself, though: Fellow Democrat Nicole Parra, who served in the state Assembly from 2002 to 2008, has also announced a bid for the 21st Congressional District. Parra, however, has a long history of supporting Republicans and defying Democrats.
With term limits preventing her from seeking re-election in 2008, she endorsed Republican Danny Gilmore, whom she herself had beaten, over Democrat Fran Florez, helping Gilmore win a narrow upset. (Reports at the time attributed the betrayal to a longstanding “feud” between the Parra and Florez families.)
Then, shortly before the end of her tenure in the legislature, Parra again infuriated Democrats by opposing her party’s budget in the Assembly. That act led then-Speaker Karen Bass to expel Parra from her office in the state Capitol and exile her to a separate building used by staffers. Democrats were particularly incensed on both occasions because the party had spent millions to help Parra win her seat in the first place.
Parra continued to cross Democrats even after leaving office: In 2010, she endorsed Republican Carly Fiorina in her unsuccessful bid for Senate against Democrat Barbara Boxer. Nonetheless, Parra kicked off her campaign for Congress with the backing of a number of local Democratic, though she emphasized that, while in the Assembly, “I always put the needs of my district above partisan politics.”
● MI-10: Retiring Rep. Paul Mitchell announced Monday that he was leaving the Republican Party and would spend the remaining three weeks of his time in Congress as an independent. Mitchell said of his now-former party, “This election simply confirms for me that it’s all about power first, and that, frankly, is disgusting and demoralizing.” Another outgoing Michigan congressman, Justin Amash, also abandoned the GOP caucus last year, first to become an independent and later a Libertarian.
The last time the U.S. House had two members who did not affiliate with either major party was from 2000 to 2002, though the situation was very different back then. Conservative Virginia Rep. Virgil Goode left the Democratic Party in 2000 to run for re-election as an independent, while Vermont Rep. Bernie Sanders had been elected back in 1990 without a party affiliation. Goode, though, became a Republican in time for his successful 2002 re-election campaign; Sanders would win a promotion to the Senate in 2006, while Goode would lose his seat two years later.
● NC Supreme Court: Democrat Cheri Beasley, the chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, conceded to Republican Paul Newby on Saturday after a partial hand recount left Newby’s narrow victory intact. Following a statewide machine recount, Newby led by 401 votes out of almost 5.4 million cast. He netted 11 votes in the hand recount, making his final margin just 0.008%.
As a result of Newby’s win, as well as Republican victories in two other Supreme Court races last month, the Democrats’ margin on North Carolina’s high court will shrink from 6-1 to 4-3. Republicans will therefore have the chance to flip the court in 2022, when two more Democratic justices, Robin Hudson and Sam “Jimmy” Ervin go before voters.
Election Results Recaps
● El Paso, TX Mayor: In one of the worst defeats for an incumbent mayor that we’ve ever seen, former Democratic Mayor Oscar Leeser ousted his Republican successor, Dee Margo, by an 80-20 margin in Saturday’s officially nonpartisan runoff. At least Margo performed better than Tony Yarber, who took a mere 5% of the vote in the 2017 Democratic primary for mayor of Jackson, Mississippi.
Margo won an all-GOP 2017 runoff in heavily blue El Paso with an endorsement from Leeser, who decided not to seek a second term that year. (The city later moved its mayoral elections to presidential years.) Leeser remained in the public eye, though, thanks to his many appearances in TV spots promoting his Hyundai dealership.
Leeser, who decided to regain his old post this year, focused on Margo’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic in El Paso, which is currently dealing with one of the worst outbreaks in the country. Leeser ran commercials declaring that Margo was “ignoring his own guidelines” and going to dinner without a mask or any regard for social distancing. The narrator also said of the incumbent, “Margo accuses councilmember from Holocaust family of Gestapo tactics,” and, “Margo says Hispanics have higher hospitalization rates than ‘normal Caucasians.'”
The ad concluded by calling Margo, “out of touch” and “out of time,” and local voters seemed to very much agree.