Republican Congressman Mike Garcia had a target painted on his back this year.
Garcia barely won a special election in 2020 and a full term later that year, twice defeating Democrat Christy Smith, a former state assemblywoman, the second time by just 333 votes.
However, Garcia’s district in northern Los Angeles went to Democrat Joe Biden by 12 percentage points in that year’s presidential race, and when the state redistricting commission redrawn its boundaries, its Democratic voter registration rate rose to more than 12 percent. points.
All of this has made Garcia, a former Navy fighter pilot, a potentially prime target in 2022 as Democrats try to prevent Republicans from taking control of the House.
In the end, however, Garcia pulled off a surprisingly easy re-election, defeating Smith for a third term by about 5 percentage points, and his victory coincidentally gave the GOP the 218 seats it needed to take control of the House. Also coincidentally, Garcia’s 27th congressional district borders House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy’s 20th CD, who is likely to be the next speaker.
For some reason, the Democratic campaign hierarchy did not mount the all-out attack on Garcia that was widely expected, and Smith, who lost for the third time, was outraged.
“Our campaign has almost zero outside resources to fight this battle. In fact, I’ve been fighting the institutional power of my own party since the beginning of this race,” Smith said in one of several Twitter posts where she lamented that her lack of party support meant “we didn’t stand a chance.”
Garcia’s victory is emblematic of what has happened in California’s congressional elections this year. Despite pre-election forecasts that the state’s huge number of seats and its deep blue slopes would make it a big battleground, the result was literally a tie.
Republicans needed a net statewide gain of at least five seats to take control of the House, and Democrats believed that with redistricting and their skewed voter registration, they could potentially flip enough seats in California to thwart a midterm loss.
Garcia was just one of five Republican incumbents who appeared vulnerable, and Democrats also thought they could win one or two newly created districts that lacked incumbents.
All five GOP congressional targets appear to have survived, though one, a perennial target, David Valadao of Hanford, is still awaiting the final count in the San Joaquin Valley’s 22nd District, which also shares a border with McCarthy’s 20th CD. As of Monday, Valadao held a five percentage point lead over Democrat Rudy Salas, the state representative.
It’s entirely possible that when all the votes are counted, Republicans will pick up a seat or two in California — a far cry from the multi-digit gains Democrats were hoping to score to offset expected losses in other states.
So does that mean California is the deciding factor in a GOP takeover of the House? One could argue that, but when the overall margin is so thin — in fact, not much larger than the current Democratic majority — the results in many states could be considered decisive.
A four-digit Republican gain in New York, where Democrats also enjoy a commanding lead in voter registration, seems far more impressive than the status quo result in California.
That means if Republicans hold on to California, they can legitimately claim a victory of sorts — especially in light of the redistricting process that has seemingly shrunk their already small congressional delegation. Democrats, meanwhile, should feel a little bummed that they couldn’t have done better under favorable circumstances.
CALmatters is public interest journalism committed to explaining how the California State Capitol works and why it matters. Dan Walters has been a journalist for nearly 60 years, all but a few of them spent working for California newspapers.