GOP pins hopes on 4 California congressional district seats

The 48th Congressional District is contested by incumbent Rep. Harley Rouda and Orange County Supervisor Michelle Steel.
The 48th Congressional District, held by Rep. Harley Rouda and sought by Orange County Supervisor Michelle Steel, is among four California congressional seats the GOP is hoping to reclaim after Democrats flipped them in 2018.
(File photos)

As the results continue to roll in, Republicans remain locked in tight races for four key California congressional seats lost to Democrats in 2018 as they seek to turn around their party’s diminished influence in the Golden State.

Three of the races remained very close early Wednesday.

From Orange County’s moneyed coast to the dust-filled Central Valley, the GOP sought to recapture onetime Republican footholds in an election year when such issues as the government’s response to the pandemic, President Trump’s policies and the wildfires that have devastated swaths of California are shaping local races.


Results were close in the race between Democratic Rep. Harley Rouda and Republican challenger Michelle Steel in Congressional District 48. The district includes Laguna Beach, Costa Mesa and Huntington Beach.

Rouda, an attorney and former real estate investor, won his first term by unseating 30-year Republican incumbent Dana Rohrabacher in 2018.

Steel, an Orange County supervisor, has won praise from Republicans for advocating to reopen local businesses amid the pandemic as other counties have moved more cautiously.

In the tri-county 39th Congressional District, former Assemblywoman Young Kim, a Republican, was in a close rematch with Democratic Rep. Gil Cisneros.

Cisneros beat Kim in 2018 in an election prompted by the resignation of longtime Republican Rep. Ed Royce. Kim worked as a longtime aide to Royce before running for the state Assembly.

Both Steel and Kim were clinging to thin leads as of just after 5 a.m. Wednesday.

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The 39th district reaches into Los Angeles County, including Diamond Bar and Hacienda Heights, San Bernardino County’s Chino Hills, and northern Orange County cities from Anaheim Hills to Buena Park.

Cisneros sought to tie his opponent to Trump by pointing out that Kim backs the president for a second term.

Likewise, supporters of Democratic Assemblywoman Christy Smith hoped that voter anger at Trump would propel her to victory over Republican Rep. Mike Garcia in the race for Congressional District 25. The district includes parts of L.A.'s Porter Ranch, Simi Valley, Santa Clarita, Palmdale and Lancaster.

The latest election results show her narrowly leading Garcia.

Garcia, a former Navy pilot and defense industry executive, won a May special election for the seat, which was left vacant after first-term Rep. Katie Hill resigned in 2019 amid a House Ethics Committee probe into allegations that she had an affair with one of her aides.

The two candidates have clashed over climate change, with Smith linking rising temperatures to the forest fires that have ravaged the district. Garcia agrees that the Earth is warming but argues that better forest management also is needed.

Another closely watched race is Congressional District 21 in the Central Valley, where Democratic Rep. T.J. Cox is being challenged by the politician he narrowly unseated in 2018, former Republican Rep. David Valadao.

Valadao was leading Cox early Wednesday.

The 2020 election cycle is the last chance Democrats will have to make up past losses before redistricting next year.

The heavily rural district includes Kings County and portions of Fresno, Tulare and Kern counties, and has a reputation as a blue-collar, tight-knit community. It is also one of the congressional districts with the highest percentage of Latinos in the country, with Latinos constituting three-quarters of the population and about 57% of registered voters.

In all, the Republican Party lost seven California congressional districts amid a 2018 anti-Trump blue wave that helped Democrats retake the U.S. House of Representatives.

The national Republican campaign arm last year hired a state director to lead its operation and launched an aggressive effort at a comeback.

Justin Richards, political director of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said last month that though the group does not reveal its internal polling, there was evidence that some of its candidates were doing well leading up to the election.

“There’s enough data out there to show how strong some of our candidates are doing, whether it’s David Valadao in California 21, a district that Hillary Clinton won by 15 points, being up by 10, or [California Rep.] Mike Garcia winning again in a Hillary district,” he said.

Times staff writers Hailey Branson-Potts, Stephanie Lai, Anh Do, Sarah D. Wire and Luke Money contributed to this report.