Republicans struggle to win elections in L.A. County. Can Barger pull off a three-peat?

Photo illustration of an elephant with a red background hiding behind a blue curtain
(Photo illustration by Jim Cooke / Los Angeles Times; photographs via Getty Images)

As she seeks a third and final term as a Los Angeles County supervisor, Kathryn Barger and her supporters are touting her endorsements from unions, the Sierra Club and the local lobbying arm of Planned Parenthood, her concerns about climate change and her willingness to stand up to the NRA and former President Trump.

It would be standard campaign fare for a Democrat, but Barger is a lifelong Republican — albeit one who laments her party’s takeover by “a radical side.”

California’s primary election takes place on March 5. Read up on the races in L.A. city, L.A. County and other areas.

Feb. 1, 2024

Winning elections in heavily Democratic Los Angeles County is difficult at best for most Republicans, but Barger has won twice, boosted by generally moderate positions and a willingness to work with the four Democrats she serves with on the Board of Supervisors, three of whom have endorsed her.


The challenge has grown a bit steeper since redistricting in 2021 tilted the sprawling 5th District slightly less conservative. Some neighborhoods in the northwest San Fernando Valley were removed, while more liberal L.A. neighborhoods came in.

So as Barger faces off against four opponents, led by Assemblymember Chris Holden (D-Pasadena), she and her backers have emphasized her Planned Parenthood endorsement and moderate stances on issues that might appeal to Democratic or independent voters.

2024 L.A. County 5th District supervisor race candidates.
Challenging incumbent Kathryn Barger in the 2024 L.A. County District 5 supervisor’s race are, clockwise from top left, Marlon Marroquin, Chris Holden, Konstantine Anthony and Perry Goldberg.

Holden, meanwhile, has claimed in campaign materials that Barger “supports Donald Trump’s MAGA agenda” — which she denies — and has pointed to choices Barger has made that he said underscore her Republican values.

“His best bet is to actually tag her as a Trump Republican or a partisan Republican, even if it’s not accurate in terms of her voting record — she does often vote with the other Democrats who are on the board — but it’s a really good way to actually try to attack her because she’s so well known in the whole district,” said Christian Grose, academic director at the USC Schwarzenegger Institute.

Supervisor races are nonpartisan, meaning the political parties of candidates aren’t listed on ballots. Instead, voters see only their job titles. The top two finishers will have a November runoff if no one receives more than 50% of the primary vote.


Barger, a county employee since the late 1980s, and Holden, who has held public office for about 35 years, are the best known candidates in the race. If Barger wins, this would be her final term because of term limits.

The other three are Burbank City Council member Konstantine Anthony, civic technologist and businessman Marlon Marroquin, and attorney and nonprofit leader Perry Goldberg, who has slammed Barger for trying to play both sides.

Four candidates are challenging the incumbent for the 5th District seat on the L.A. County Board of Supervisors. The big issues: homelessness, mental health, public safety.

Feb. 1, 2024

Of the 1.2 million registered voters in the 5th District, 46% are Democrats, up from 43% before redistricting in 2021, according to county election data. About 25% are Republicans, down from 26%, and about 23% have no party preference, down from about 26%.

“There’s not dramatic changes, though I do think going from [43%] to 46% [Democrats], in a close election, that’s the margin, even though it’s not a huge change,” said Grose, a political science and public policy professor at USC.

Most races in L.A. County involve moderate Democrats being challenged by more liberal members of their own party, said Raphael Sonenshein, a longtime researcher of California politics. The 5th District offers the rare opportunity for a moderate Republican like Barger to be successful.

“But the candidate who would be identified as more Republican really has to sidestep the downside of being a Republican in California when party is on people’s minds,” said Sonenshein, executive director of the John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation, which finances social science research.


The focus on the support from Planned Parenthood could help Barger court Democrats and other left-leaning voters, especially female and LGBTQ+ voters, experts said.

“Her opponents sense that her voters tend [to lean] more left, and they want to paint Barger as a Trump devotee, based on those mailers, and a clear way for Barger to dispel doubts about her Trump allegiance is to focus on a core issue for Democrats, especially Democratic women: her support for reproductive rights,” said Jennifer M. Piscopo, an associate politics professor at Occidental College.

In his mailers, Holden said he has a “100% legislative score” from Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, and included images of him speaking to supporters in pink Planned Parenthood T-shirts.

Barger’s endorsement from Planned Parenthood Advocacy Project Los Angeles County came because of her long history of working with the broader organization, said the project’s board president, Sue Dunlap.

Since being elected, Barger has ensured that if protesters outside a clinic block patient access, Dunlap, who also leads Planned Parenthood Los Angeles, or her staff can easily reach top Sheriff’s Department officials to help keep their staff and patients safe, Dunlap said.

“It’s not so much not endorsing Chris Holden ... this is not about him,” Dunlap said. “It’s about [Barger] and who we’ve worked with for over 15 years now. ... We trust her and know she’ll pick up the phone.”


For his part, Holden is endorsed by the L.A. County Democratic Party, several local and state leaders, including U.S. Rep Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank), and several labor unions, including SEIU Local 2015, which represents long-term care workers, and three other SEIU unions.

During the campaign, Holden has sought to place Barger in the larger Trump orbit.

Barger has raised more than $448,000 from donors to former President Trump, Holden said in campaign materials and an interview, citing county fundraising data. Barger said Holden has Trump donors, too, which he denies.

Holden said Barger supported a Pennsylvania U.S. Senate candidate who claimed the 2020 election was stolen from Trump. Barger said this candidate, who wasn’t endorsed by Trump, was a personal friend who was the first person to donate to her campaign in 2016.

“It’s values, OK? You’re my friend, but whoa, my friend’s got some wacky ideas here, and how’s that going to look if I’m supporting her?” Holden said. “Who’s going to know I’m supporting my friend? All they’re going to know is I supported this person who’s an election denier.”

Holden criticized Barger for abstaining from voting on a recommendation in 2018 that the county’s lobbyists in Washington, D.C., push for a semiautomatic weapons ban.

Barger said she supports gun control — including a ban on .50-caliber handguns and other measures the board passed last year — and “because I don’t agree on a certain motion that was brought in is not reflective of the fact that I’m not pro-gun control because I am,” adding that the U.S. continues to add gun control laws without enforcing laws already on the books.


Holden said Barger has taken conservative stances on immigration, pointing to reported comments by Barger at a 2017 Republican women’s luncheon that America needed Trump’s approach to immigration. “I’m hoping tough love does it because obviously playing nice in the sandbox has done nothing,” Barger was quoted as saying in a Santa Clarita Valley Signal story.

Barger said her comment was taken out of context and the “tough love” she was talking about was the energy that the supervisors should direct at Congress because both Democrats and Republicans are using the broken immigration system as a “political pawn” and that is harming L.A. County residents.

Holden said if he were a moderate Republican, he’d have changed his registration to independent.

“I’ve seen moderate Republicans move in that direction. That was their decision. That’s their call. She’s perfectly entitled to kind of land where she is, and that’s her choice,” Holden said.

Barger said she has considering registering as an independent but won’t at this point just because “politically it’s the thing to do.”


There are those in the party who call her a RINO — Republican in Name Only — and it’s unfortunate the Republican Party has been overtaken by “a radical side,” she said.

Barger said she has always supported LGBTQ+ rights and has focused her attention on the priorities of the county, addressing homelessness by funding shelters, housing and new mental health facilities in the 5th District.

“I joke — but I don’t think it is a joke — if I were in an office up in Sacramento or in Washington, D.C., I’d be in ‘timeout’ every day” for her moderate views and refusal to vote only as directed by the party, Barger said. “I think you should think for yourself, and do what’s right for your constituency.”

For all their sparring, Barger and Holden have at least one thing in common: they were both influenced by their politician fathers.

Holden’s father, Nate Holden, is a former Democratic state senator and L.A. City Council member.

The younger Holden said he became a registered Democrat at 18. His first job out of college was at an East L.A. juvenile hall, where he saw young people close to his age suffering, and he wanted to help.


“It was based on the values that I grew up around, how I saw how and who my dad was fighting for in a public service position, and it just made sense to me,” Holden said. He said those values led him to open a health clinic in Pasadena for uninsured and underinsured people, and fight to bring better public transit options to Pasadena through the creation and extension of the Gold Line.

Barger’s father, Richards D. Barger, was appointed as state insurance commissioner in 1968 by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan.

Barger said she registered as a Republican at 18 because of the respect she had for her father, adding that she has never been active in the party and has never sought its endorsement.

Barger said that as a child she knew Democratic political giant Jesse M. Unruh as a family friend but had no idea he was a Democrat.

“My dad was so nonpartisan, and that’s where I got it,” Barger said. “It’s about the issues in front of you and not about the party.”