Depending on who you are, California’s newly redrawn congressional district lines are producing either big yawns or a lot of consternation.
Yes, there is the usual posturing. The state’s hugely outnumbered Republican Party, for example, issued a statement immediately after seeing the changes, saying “It’s going to be tough running in 2022 with a D behind your name.” Probably incorrect.
For it now appears that even though one Democratic district was virtually obliterated in the mapping process (Lucille Roybal-Allard’s current 40th, in eastern Los Angeles County), California Democrats will end up with at least as many House seats as they now hold. No surprise, Roybal-Allard, 80, announced her impending retirement just days before the new lines became official.
Yes, there will be some churn. For example, if the Latino majorities in 16 of the new districts (three more than among the old ones) vote in larger numbers than usual, some longtime officeholders could be turned out in the June primary election.
But Democrats will have more voters than Republicans in 43 of the 52 new or surviving districts, while others – like two-term Democrat Mike Levin’s territory centered on northern San Diego County – will have about even party registration numbers. That means a lot will turn on the registration and turnout efforts of both parties, and Democrats have essentially whipped Republicans in those departments over the last two decades, holding almost a 2-1 registration edge statewide.
Meanwhile, there are large contingents of no-party-preference voters in many districts, and those folks have generally – but not always – leaned to Democrats.
Some of the more interesting changes will see two-term Orange County Democrat Katie Porter keep only part of her current mostly inland district, but eat up a lot of the old coastal 48th District now represented by Michelle Steel. Steel will run in a different district rather than challenge the extremely well-funded Porter, who has a national fan base.
That leaves former Democratic Congressman Harley Rouda, who expected a rematch of his tight 2020 race with with Steel, casting about for a logical course. Will he oppose Porter, or instead wangle some kind of federal appointment, as deposed members of Congress often do?
The current 25th District, which has included the hugely contrasting Antelope Valley in Los Angeles County and suburban Simi Valley in Ventura County, will no longer have Simi Valley, but instead pick up a couple of mostly Democratic pieces of Los Angeles. Does that mean automatic defeat for incumbent Republican Mike Garcia, who won office by the state’s slimmest margin in 2020?
Said Garcia, “Five out of the 11 (current GOP) districts see Republicans more vulnerable, but I know we will win in this new district.” Time will tell.
In the Central Valley, increased Latino population percentages were one reason veteran Republican Devin Nunes gave up his Visalia-centered seat to work for ex-President Donald Trump, despite his long record of not paying the help. Those same new numbers will imperil the political future of Hanford’s David Valadao, who has split the last two elections in very tight races. But two-term Democrat Josh Harder of Modesto will seek at least some new hunting grounds because bunches of incoming Republicans have altered his current 10th District. He will likely move slightly south.
The new plan leaves major national figures like San Francisco Democrat Nancy Pelosi and Bakersfield Republican Kevin McCarthy as safe as ever, meaning it’s almost certain the speaker of the House will still be a Californian when the voting is over.
This all has to be disappointing to Republicans who believed California’s loss of one House seat due to low population growth would help them take back the House majority.
But current trends suggest the GOP may have clinched a House majority even before the November polls close in California.
Still, a strong legislative comeback for President Biden’s agenda during the first half of the new year could change that picture and leave Democrats still narrowly in control of the House – if they can stay unified, which has been their biggest challenge over the last few years.