Nowhere has talk of an impending “blue wave” sweeping Democrats into Congress and Republicans out been louder and more constant this fall than in California, where the GOP held only 14 of the state’s 53 House seats even before election season began.
But as the vote proceeds by mail this month and nears a climax in polling booths, one thing seems likely: Democrats will not dominate quite as strongly here as they’ve hoped.
Yes, they do have the advantage that this mid-term election is largely a referendum on Donald Trump’s popularity as President. But no, Democrats probably won’t flip seven seats here – half the GOP total – as they’ve often said might be a key factor in gaining control of Congress’ lower house.
Example: Even though Democrats have often touted the approximately 40 percent Latino residency in Devin Nunes’ 22nd District, it has been several cycles since his vote total was under 68 percent of all those cast. Even now, with reams of national publicity over his questionable conduct as a Trump acolyte while chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, the often-authoritative Cook Report still rates the 22nd a “solid Republican” district.
This despite the very recent revelation by Vanity Fair magazine that Nunes, who often says he’s a Tulare-area dairy farmer, and his family long ago moved their operation to Iowa. Only an uncle still has a local dairy farm, the magazine reported.
So this seat, once considered a decent possibility for the Democrats, will likely stay red. Probably, so will Tom McClintock’s 4th district in the Sierra Nevada foothills east and southeast of Sacramento, despite his getting his first taste in many years of serious Democratic opposition.
But there almost certainly will be some Democratic pickups, as several Republican-held seats are now rated tossups or leaning Democratic. One that leans Democratic is the 49th district in north San Diego County and south Orange County. There Democrat Mike Levin has led Republican Diane Harkey by a 10-point margin for the seat long held by the GOP’s Darrell Issa, currently listed as the richest man in Congress due to his car alarm fortune.
Another seat looking promising for Democrats is the coastal Orange County district long dominated by Republican Dana Rohrabacher, sometimes called “Vladimir Putin’s favorite congressman” because of his frequent Russophile remarks. Recent data showed Democrat Harley Rouda either even or leading narrowly over Rohrabacher.
Democrat Katie Porter also appears to have a decent shot at beating Republican Mimi Walters in another Orange County district, the 45th, where Walters took 59 percent of the vote two years ago. A Walters loss would be a major turnaround attributable almost completely to Walters’ strong backing of Trump.
Democrat Katie Hill’s attempt to unseat Republican Steve Knight in the 25th District, centered on Santa Clarita, also is rated a tossup in most polls. Knight won only narrowly two years ago, and appears vulnerable.
So does Republican Jeff Denham in the 10th District, centered on Modesto. Like Nunes’ district, the 10th has a large Latino populace, but Denham drew just 52 percent of the vote last time out, far behind Nunes’ 2016 performance. Democrats will spend more than $4 million trying to take over this district.
But they are not doing as well in the 39th District in northern Orange County and some parts of Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties. Long held by the retiring Republican Ed Royce, now chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, this district was considered ripe for plucking by the Democrats, but that party’s candidate, Gil Cisneros, trailed Republican Young Kim by about 4 percentage points in one recent poll.
If Democrats win all the races now leaning their way, but lose any of those that appear to be tossups right now, there’s a good chance they may not take over the House, which comes with investigative powers many of them are salivating to use against Trump, just as the GOP used them to hound former President Barack Obama.
The bottom line: There will likely be something of a blue wave when the results start pouring in on Election Night, but anyone claiming it will be of tsunami size may prove to have been carried away.
Email Thomas Elias at firstname.lastname@example.org. His book, “The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It,” is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, go to www.californiafocus.net