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This is how you’ll know California Republicans had a good election night

Democratic U.S. Rep. Ami Bera, left, shakes hands with his Republican challenger, Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones.
Rep. Ami Bera shakes hands with his Republican challenger, Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones.
(Jose Luis Villegas / Associated Press)

As Democrats face the difficult challenge of winning 30 new seats to take control of the House of Representatives, California Republicans are doing what they can to hold onto their 14-member share of the 53-member delegation, and maybe even flip one or more in their favor.

Which races to watch if it’s a good night for Democrats »

Republican chances of holding their majority are high, partly because few people expected such a divisive presidential nominee at the top of the ticket and Democrats didn’t spend as much time as they could have recruiting strong candidates in some districts. By the time the energy had shifted in Democrats’ direction, their candidate slate had largely been filled.

Here are races to watch if things start going the House Republicans’ way on election night:

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Best chance to gain is in Sacramento’s 7th District

If Republicans gain a seat in California this year, their best chance is in the Sacramento area’s 7th District where Rep. Ami Bera (D-Elk Grove) faces Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones.

The national Republican Party has had its eye on this district since Bera secured a second term with just 50.4% of the vote in what was among the tightest House general election contests in the country.

Babulal Bera, the congressman’s father, was sentenced to federal prison in August after pleading guilty to illegally funneling more than a quarter of a million dollars to his son’s 2010 and 2012 campaigns. That gave Republicans some leverage, and they’ve pushed the congressman repeatedly on what he knew about his father’s activities. Jones has had his own struggles.

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The nonpartisan analysts at the Cook Political Report rate the race as leaning toward Bera but say Jones still has a chance.

This open seat in a longtime Democratic district

Republicans have their eye on the 24th Congressional District seat being vacated by Santa Barbara Democrat Rep. Lois Capps.

They’ve placed their hopes on 28-year-old GOP candidate and former Capitol Hill staff member Justin Fareed. He’s running against Democratic Santa Barbara County Supervisor Salud Carbajal, whom Capps endorsed, in what has become one of the most expensive races in the country.

The Cook Political Report analysts rate the race as leaning toward Carbajal but say Fareed still has a chance.

Unlikely targets still on the national party’s radar

Republicans have targeted a handful of other seats held by Democrats, including the 31st, the 36th and the 52nd Districts, but at this point political observers largely consider them uncompetitive and the party has put fewer resources toward the races in the last few months.

In the 31st District, Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Redlands) faces Republican Paul Chabot, whom he beat in 2014 by 52% to win the seat.

Aguilar got just 43% of the primary vote, a low turnout even for a freshman.

In the 36th District, Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Palm Desert) is being challenged by Republican Jeff Stone. And in the 52nd District, which has been known to throw out incumbents, Rep. Scott Peters (D-San Diego) faces Republican Denise Gitsham.

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Ruiz and Peters, who are both seeking a third term, each got about 58% of the primary vote.

But if they’re having a bad night ...

The main priority for Republicans has been protecting the handful of members whose constituents are more moderate and might be more willing to consider a Democrat.

So keep an eye on the 25th District seat held by Rep. Steve Knight, the 49th held by Rep. Darrell Issa and the 10th held by Rep. Jeff Denham, for indications of whether conservative turnout is being dampened by Republican nominee Donald Trump’s presence at the top of the ticket, coupled with the absence of a Republican option for California’s U.S. Senate seat.

sarah.wire@latimes.com

Follow @sarahdwire on Twitter

Read more about the 55 members of California’s delegation at latimes.com/politics

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