Democrat T.J. Cox has taken the lead over Rep. David Valadao (R) in California’s 21st Congressional District, in another potential boost for Democrats, who have posted a string of wins in the state.
After the latest results from Kern County were tallied Monday night, Cox was leading with 55,650 votes to Valadao’s 55,212, a margin of less than one percentage point. The latest figures mark a turnaround from election night, when Valadao was ahead by nearly 4,400 votes and the Associated Press projected that victory was in the Republican’s hands. AP retracted that call Monday night.
Democrats will hold at least 45 of California’s 53 House seats in the new Congress, up from 39 before the midterms; a Cox win would hand them a 46th seat. All six of the Republican-held seats Democrats have flipped in the state thus far are in districts won by former secretary of state Hillary Clinton (D) in 2016.
Democrats also solidified their grip on California with victories in this year’s Senate and gubernatorial races, in addition to gaining a supermajority in the state Senate and holding their State Assembly supermajority.
The latest tally was a blow to Republicans, including incoming House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), and good news for Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who is fighting to reclaim the speaker’s gavel once the new Congress convenes in January.
Several Republican strategists in California said that while their party was already on a downward trajectory in the state, President Trump accelerated their losses, particularly in the suburbs and in Orange County, once a GOP stronghold.
“Every time Donald Trump talked about the caravan or birthright citizenship, he drove thousands of economically successful, well-educated suburban women into the arms of Democratic congressional candidates,” said Dan Schnur, a professor at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communication.
Whether intentional or not, Trump ended up making “a very specific trade” in this year’s midterm elections, Schnur said: “He got red states and rural voters to expand the Republican Senate majority in exchange for giving away large numbers of suburban voters who elected a Democratic House.”
“California was simply collateral damage,” he added.
The Republican Party’s embrace of Trump — and its recent string of defeats in the state — have spurred some to begin talking about alternatives, such as backing independents or registering as what’s known in the state as No Party Preference voters, said Rob Stutzman, a longtime GOP consultant who previously worked as deputy chief of staff to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R).
“I think we very well may have seen the moment when the party basically goes away in California, particularly if it continues to be a Donald Trump Republican Party,” Stutzman said. “He has accentuated everything about the brand that is a liability in politics.”
A recent column written by former State Assembly Republican minority leader Kristin Olsen for the nonprofit news website CALmatters underscored the crossroads at which the party currently finds itself. In the piece, Olsen concluded that the California Republican Party “isn’t salvageable at this time,” in part because it has “failed to separate itself from today’s toxic, national brand of Republican politics.”
“It is time for a New Way,” Olsen wrote. “And if the Republican Party can’t evolve, it may be time for a third party, one that will appeal to disenfranchised voters in the Republican and Democratic parties who long for better representation and a better California for all.”
With Trump on the ballot in 2020, the outlook could get even worse for California Republicans, strategists said, although that could change depending on where the state’s economy heads in the coming years.
“These dynamics that have shaken California politics in the past could shake them again in the future, but that’s hardly a plan,” Stutzman said.