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In a battleground congressional district north of L.A., Trump verdict may be a wildcard in the November election

Rep. Mike Garcia standing at a lectern near photos, an American flag and a bunting
Rep. Mike Garcia (R-Santa Clarita) speaks during a Memorial Day event in Newhall last weekend. Garcia is fighting to keep his seat in one of the nation’s most hotly contested congressional races.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)
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Sharing a salt-and-butter breakfast roll with her grandson at a Newhall bakery, stalwart Republican Jill Brown said former President Trump’s guilty verdict in a Manhattan courtroom won’t dent her plans to vote for him in the November presidential election.

The longtime Santa Clarita resident and retired teacher, who voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020, suspects Biden was also guilty of unspecified crimes and didn’t know why prosecutors were focusing on Trump’s actions.

“Hush money has been going on since the beginning of time. So I don’t know why they’re making such a big deal about it,” Brown, 69, said Friday.

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In Santa Clarita, nestled in a hotly contested congressional district that is expected to help determine which party controls Congress next year, Trump’s guilty verdict did little to sway Brown or other hardcore Republicans.

But it may nudge moderate swing voters, and that could be pivotal in deciding the fate of Rep. Mike Garcia (R-Santa Clarita) this election.

Still, it remains to be seen whether the verdict — and any corresponding stain on the presumptive Republican presidential nominee — will affect a congressional race in which the overheated national discourse has often taken a backseat to the issues affecting the day-to-day lives of Californians.

“Those who try to nationalize this race and make everything super partisan fundamentally misunderstand our district,” said Charles Hughes, an Antelope Valley resident and president of the local Republican central committee. Hughes didn’t think the verdict would have any impact on the race or support for Garcia.

Garcia is hoping to fend off Democratic challenger George Whitesides in California’s closely divided 27th Congressional District, where voters have twice reelected their Republican congressman — despite a double-digit Democrat voter registration advantage. In the 2020 presidential election, Biden beat Trump in the district by 12 percentage points.

About an hour’s drive from the solidly liberal confines of downtown Los Angeles, the congressional district sprawls from Santa Clarita into the folds and valleys of the San Gabriel Mountains and high desert frontier of Lancaster and Palmdale.

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Once staunchly red territory, this district has been on the front lines of partisan warfare since a millennial Democrat unseated the Republican incumbent in a nationally watched 2018 race. But her meteoric rise met an equally quick fall, with Rep. Katie Hill resigning less than a year later amid a sex scandal. Garcia won the seat in a special election and has managed to retain it in two subsequent regular elections.

From the farm towns of the Central Valley to the beaches of Orange County, California is a battleground for control of the House of Representatives.

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Kevin Mahan, 72, an independent voter, hasn’t decided how he’ll vote in the November congressional race. As a recent transplant from Glendale, he doesn’t know much about Santa Clarita politics or Garcia. But Mahan said he’d be unlikely to support Garcia, adding, “If somebody’s in bed with Trump, I’m not gonna vote for him.”

The historic criminal conviction of Trump was a sad day for America, Mahan said.

Outside money, busloads of volunteers and unabated national attention have poured in during each of the recent election cycles. 2024 will be no different: The race for the 27th remains one of the most competitive congressional contests in the nation, and the results will undoubtedly help shape partisan control of the House. It’s one of four California races rated as a “toss up” by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

But the Trump verdict and potential associations for Garcia — who had been endorsed by Trump in the past — could influence independent voters, who account for more than a fifth of the district’s electorate.

Views of the trial and verdict have been shaped by a voters’ underlying political allegiances, with polling showing that Democrats overwhelmingly saw the trial as fair, whereas only a tiny fraction of Republicans agreed with that sentiment. Independents were evenly split on the relative fairness of the trial.

Garcia has yet to comment on the verdict. Whitesides used it as an opportunity to highlight the ties between the former president and the L.A.-area congressman, saying in a statement that “Garcia is focused on defending Trump, rather than serving us” and noting that his opponent was one of several California Republicans who voted against certifying the 2020 election results.

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What do Republican congressional candidates have to say about Donald Trump’s conviction? Those in competitive districts mostly say nothing.

May 30, 2024

Democratic allies, like Santa Clarita Valley Democrats Chair and founder Andrew Taban and former Democratic candidate Christy Smith, who ran three unsuccessful campaigns against Garcia in the past, were hopeful that the trial could push independent voters toward Whitesides.

“The key thing to remember about CA-27 is that while the biggest voting bloc of registered voters are Democrats, the second largest bloc are independent voters, and independent voters consistently in this district have broken for President Biden,” Smith said. With “the right kind of exposure,” she posited, Garcia’s ties to Trump could impact how those independents vote in the November congressional race.

George Whitesides gestures while wearing a suit and headset microphone at a 2019 conference
Democratic challenger George Whitesides, pictured at a 2019 conference in Beverly Hills, noted that rival Rep. Mike Garcia was one of the California Republicans to vote against certification of the 2020 presidential election results.
(Kyle Grillot / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

As his group canvasses for Whitesides and other local Democratic candidates, Taban said he expected the verdict might come up in conversations with voters, particularly as he and other club members plan to underscore the fact that Garcia is “for sure a Trump loyalist.”

But at the end of the day, congressional swing voters are going to be much more focused on economic issues such as gas and grocery prices, crime and the border, said Jon Fleischman, a Republican strategist and former state GOP executive director.

“I’m not saying that voter opinions about Trump do not matter,” Fleischman said. “I just don’t think the verdicts Thursday change many minds.”

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