Congress: The races to watch

Everyone likes a good rematch.

Remember the “blue wave” in 2018, when a pack of Trump-loathing political newbies unseated half of the GOP’s California congressional seats in the largest nationwide Democratic Congressional blitz since Watergate? Now Democrats want to protect what’s theirs and claw back a seat that flipped back during a special election. Buoyed by the president’s persistent unpopularity in the state and high expected turnout, party optimists even hope to expand further into solidly Republican rural California.

But California’s freshman Democrats now have a record — on impeachment, Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, criminal justice and their perceived closeness with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Republicans plan to hammer them on it. Below, a recap of the most competitive, interesting or consequential contests.

— By Ben Christopher

District 1

About the district

From Sacramento’s northern exurbs to the Oregon border, from just west of Redding to just west of Reno, this district is larger than West Virginia. Its particular brand of anti-Sacramento conservatism is best represented by the yellow flag of the State of Jefferson — a California secession movement that never quite took, but never quite left the popular imagination either.

That strain is also apparent in the district’s electoral history. President Trump won here by 20 points in 2016. Republicans make up a higher share of the electorate than in any other California congressional district and they outnumber Democrats by 12 percentage points. 

Where is the district?

Who are the candidates?

A Republican incumbent accustomed to easy wins is once again facing an underdog Democratic candidate. And the challenger is planning to put up a bigger fight this time. 

Republican

Doug LaMalfa

From the Assembly to the state Senate to Congress, LaMalfa has been a feature of California Republican politics since 2002. He’s also a rice farmer, hailing from a family of rice farmers, and plays up his Stetson-toting rustic cred with the campaign slogan “one of us.” For years LaMalfa has served as a quietly reliable workhorse of one of California’s most rural districts, introducing bipartisan legislation on forest management and backing recent Democratic efforts to boost funding for the post office. He’s also a dependably conservative vote and ally of the president. He enjoys an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association. He has said he is not convinced that human activity is responsible for climate change. And he recently introduced legislation that would ban sex reassignment surgery for minors. 

Democrat

Audrey Denney

An education consultant and former agriculture lecturer at California State University, Chico, Denney made a surprisingly strong showing here in 2018, losing by less than 10 points in a seat that went for President Trump by 20. Her candidacy followed a familiar formula that seemed to work for Democrats during the midterms: she was a young, mostly-moderate woman inspired to run after the surprise win of Trump in 2016. During the midterms, she pulled heavily from the more densely populated portions of the district, while LaMalfa ran up the tally among the rural majority. Announcing her second bid in the months after the Camp Fire killed 85 people in Butte County, she’s been particularly focused on forest management and climate change. With more name recognition, more money and likely higher turnout behind her this time, she’s hoping to be this year’s sleeper win.

What are the stakes?

In 2018, Denney successfully captured the imagination of enough progressive donors to mount a real campaign. She’s playing to those Democratic dreams again, helped by the March primary, when LaMalfa received only 54% of the vote. The fact that this race is even remotely competitive is a sign of just how much terrain the GOP has lost in California. 

Endorsements

Doug LaMalfa

  • National Rifle Association

  • California Pro-Life Council

Audrey Denney

  • California Teachers Association

  • California Democratic Party

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders

Relevant Stories
District 4

About the district

Stretching from Truckee to Kings Canyon, this is California’s foothill and mountain district. When California’s redistricting commission cobbled this 300-mile span together, it was to create a block of voters with shared concerns about land management, fire, national parks, mountain recreation and rural economic development. Electorally speaking, those varied communities have also tended to share a general preference for Republicans. 

 

But over the last decade, the suburbs and its politics have been slowly creeping in. Sacramento’s metro area has been one of the fastest growing in California. And while the district remains one of the most Republican-leaning in the state, all those new voters, many fleeing the Bay Area in search of cheaper housing, have created the slightest of openings for less conservative candidates. 

Where is the district?

Who are the candidates?

A warhorse of the California GOP was able to fend off his massively-funded challenger in 2018. With demographics and expected turnout in their favor, Democrats hope a new hyper-achieving candidate might just be able to close that gap.

Republican

Tom McClintock

A California Republican Party mainstay since the age of 23, McClintock has been a state senator, member of the Assembly, county GOP chair and candidate for governor, lieutenant governor and controller. Despite his roots in Ventura County, in 2008 McClintock ran for Congress to represent the 4th district — which then ran from Roseville to the Oregon border. He’s represented the 4th ever since as one of the House’s most conservative members. From his position on the Judiciary committee, he stood out during the presidential impeachment hearings as among the more combative defenders of the president. Since the start of the pandemic, he’s made headlines as the only member of the California delegation to vote against the second federal pandemic relief bill — and for his refusal to wear a mask during hearings.

Democrat

Brynne Kennedy

A Yale gymnast turned Wall Street investment banker turned remote working consultant who speaks Mandarin, Kennedy is now in her mid-30s and hoping to add “member of Congress” to her resume. Like McClintock’s 2018 challenger, Jessica Morse, Kennedy also represents one of the district’s fastest growing demographics: highly educated, white-collar suburbanites with middle-of-the road politics. But Kennedy has a few strengths over her predecessor: Morse was accused of exaggerating her CV, while Kennedy has no such baggage. She’s also running as Democrat in during what’s likely to be a high-turnout presidential year.

What are the stakes?

This has been inhospitable terrain for Democratic candidates. But Democrats would love nothing more than to see McClintock finally retire and, if 2018 is a guide, they’re willing to spend vast sums on that off-chance.

Endorsements

Tom McClintock

  • California Pro-Life Council

  • National Rifle Association

Brynne Kennedy

  • Equality California

  • California Democratic Party

Relevant Stories
District 10

About the district

It’s in the Central Valley, but the Bay Area’s fingerprints are all over it.

The Bay’s housing market has caused Tracy’s population to surge with super-commuters in recent years. During the Trump era, Bay Area campaign cash has made races here among the most expensive, and its weekend volunteers have poured over the hills into Modesto and Turlock.

Though this is a seat Democrats nabbed from Republicans in 2018, it’s been leaning that direction for half a decade. In 2015, the number of registered Democrats surpassed Republicans, and Clinton beat Trump by 3 points.

Where is the district?

Who are the candidates?

This Bay Area-adjacent Central Valley district that recently flipped blue was always going to be an uphill battle for Republicans. And that was before the GOP candidate’s ugly social media history made news.

Democrat

Josh Harder

Harder was born in Turlock before attending Stanford and Harvard. After a stint as a venture capitalist, he returned to the district to unseat GOP Rep. Jeff Denham. In Washington, Harder has voted in the ideological dead center of the Democratic caucus. And with strong ties to Silicon Valley, he’s been one of the state’s most prolific fundraisers.

Republican

Ted Howze

A veterinarian and former Turlock councilman, Howze placed second in the March primary thanks largely to name recognition: He ran for the seat in 2018 as an immigration hardliner. Better yet for the GOP, their party’s share of the vote exceeded the combined total of the Democrats. Then things went off the rails. In May, Politico unearthed a series of sexist, Islamophobic and conspiracy theory-laden social media posts from the candidate’s 2018 primary run. Soon after, House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy, who represents Bakersfield, pulled his endorsement.

What are the stakes?

Harder beat Denham in 2018 by characterizing him as a Trump acolyte. With his own record and Washington D.C. association to defend, Harder will have to prove that his win wasn’t merely a reaction to an unpopular incumbent, but to the GOP itself. Howze’s (now-scrubbed) Facebook feed has made that job a lot easier.

 

 

 

Endorsements

Josh Harder

  • California Teachers Association

  • California Young Democrats

Ted Howze

  • California Pro-Life Council

  • Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association

Relevant Stories
District 21

About the district

Jutting from the southeastern edge of Fresno south to Bakersfield, this district has the highest poverty rate of any in the state.

It’s also long seemed to defy political logic. Registered Democrats have outnumbered Republicans by double digits for years. Trump was soundly defeated here in 2016. And yet, election after election, voters re-hired a Republican for Congress. That disequilibrium broke last year — barely. GOP Rep. David Valadao lost by 862 votes. 

Where is the district?

Who are the candidates?

This is round two for 2018, but in reverse.

Democrat

TJ Cox

In the lead-up to the 2018 midterm elections, Cox ran a quieter primary than Democratic challengers elsewhere — most saw his challenge to Valadao as a longshot. But a massive voter mobilization effort targeted at Latino and younger voters pulled him through. 

In D.C., Cox has voted in line with the bulk of his Democratic colleagues. Outside of Congress, he hasn’t been doing his reelection campaign any favors. In three separate instances in 2019, Cox was forced to fess up to previously undisclosed business ties, including his directorship of a Canadian mining company that got into legal trouble for failing to pay its employees. Then in August, the Fresno Bee reported that Cox convinced federal park employees to give him two passes to Yosemite National Park, circumventing the standard lottery system. But it was later reported that Cox had secured the passes in order to film a video promoting federal conservation legislation.

Republican

David Valadao

Due to his agricultural pedigree and moderate immigration record, Valadao might just be the kind of Republican who can still win in this section of the Central Valley. And he wants his seat back.

But he has had financial troubles of his own, and must strike what could be an impossible balance: to sufficiently distance himself from Trump to entice moderate Democrats and independents, but not so much that he alienates his own party. Hence his decision to run a political ad heralding his work with President Obama, while also reassuring members of his own party that unlike in 2016, he will be supporting Trump this time. 

What are the stakes?

In a reversal of roles from two years ago, Democrats have a battered incumbent to defend of their own. Even with the high turnout that typically accompanies a presidential election year, this is seen as among their most vulnerable seats. 

Endorsements

TJ Cox

  • Equality California

  • California Professional Firefighters

David Valadao

  • Fresno Bee

  • National Federation of Independent Business

Relevant Stories
District 22

About the district

From Clovis to Tulare to Visalia, Big Ag is king in this stretch of the eastern Central Valley. It’s also one of the state’s more conservative plots. Republicans outnumber Democrats, and Trump won here by nearly 10 points.

Where is the district?

Who are the candidates?

Incumbent Devin Nunes’ fervent defense of Trump and his regular goading of liberals and journalists makes him a national hero to some and a villain to others. That means this race is sure to be closely watched and well-financed — even if it isn’t the most competitive. 

Republican

Devin Nunes

As chairman of the House Intelligence Committee prior to 2018, Nunes protected Trump and railed against the “Deep State.” After the GOP lost its House majority in 2018, Nunes became the dismissive, trolling counterpart to Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, who chaired the House’s impeachment inquiry. 

 

For all those reasons, Nunes is a powerhouse fundraiser with enough cash on hand to run for Senate in many states.

When not sparring with Democrats on CSPAN, Nunes has been busy filing defamation suits to silence an array of critics — against CNN, Twitter, the Fresno Bee, a retired farmer in the district, a Republican political strategist and, most notably,  two online social media users claiming via parody accounts to be Nunes’ mom and his cow. 

Democrat

Phil Arballo

Phil (Felipe) Arballo, a Fresno financial advisor, has endorsements from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and local trades union groups. He also earned the backing of Andrew Janz, the prosecutor who took on Nunes in 2018. Like Janz, Arballo is a longshot in such a GOP-leaning district. But taking on what Democrats regards as one of their most loathed members of Congress tends to do wonders for a campaign’s fundraising efforts.

What are the stakes?

Even in a high turnout year, odds are still on Nunes. But like 2018, this looks to be a massive money suck for both parties.

Endorsements

Devin Nunes

  • California Pro-Life Council

  • National Rifle Association

Phil Arballo

  • California Labor Federation

  • The Fresno Bee

Relevant Stories
District 25

About the district

The three valleys that form the north Los Angeles suburbs — Simi, Santa Clarita and Antelope — have always been defined in opposition to their metropolitan neighbor. In the 1970s, Santa Clarita became synonymous with white flight, as L.A.’s middle- and upper-middle-class white residents and much of the L.A. law enforcement workforce fled crime, mandatory busing and urban living. This all gave the region a decidedly conservative bent: Simi Valley is home to the Reagan national library.

But those politics have been changing — partly in reaction to the Trump era but also as a function of diversifying demographics. 

Where is the district?

Who are the candidates?

Didn’t this contest just happen? Yes, it did. Businessman Mike Garcia easily beat Assemblymember Christy Smith in a special election to replace Katie Hill, who stepped down after details of her sexual relationship with a campaign staffer and accompanying nude photos were posted by a right-wing political website and a British tabloid. Garcia will have to beat Smith again if he wants to hold onto this seat for more than a few months.

Republican

Mike Garcia

When Hill beat a Republican incumbent in 2018, the narrative for Democrats was clear: The home of the Reagan Presidential Library had rejected the politics of Donald Trump. But Garcia’s sound victory in May flipped that script. A Georgetown-educated defense contractor and former Navy fighter pilot, Garcia ran as the unabashed pro-Trump candidate. He denounced the “socialist agenda” of Democrats and outflanked former GOP Rep. Steve Knight, who had hoped to stage a comeback. Alongside his connection to the military, the thrust of Garcia’s re-election messaging has been that California under Democratic rule is on the wrong track. He’s made a particular point of hammering Smith for her vote for a new law making it harder for companies like Uber and Lyft to classify their workers as independent contractors.

Democrat

Christy Smith

A relative moderate who won election to the state Assembly in 2018, she easily nabbed second place in the March primary despite a cavalcade of other Democratic challengers, including YouTube personality Cenk Uyger. That was thanks in part to full-throated endorsements by Gov. Gavin Newsom, both of California’s U.S. senators, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the state party and Hill herself. As with many of the Democrats who flipped red seats blue in 2018, Smith is emphasizing health care above all else, vowing to protect and push to expand the Affordable Care Act if elected. 

What are the stakes?

Suburban, once-reliably Republican but resistant to Trump, this district has “bellwether” written all over it. Both parties will be marshalling their resources accordingly. But for Democrats a victory here would be symbolic. Hill was a breakout star of the 2018 blue wave who was going places within the party’s ranks. Her unceremonious departure, facilitated as it was by conservative operatives, left many Democratic activists feeling robbed. Garcia may have won this seat in May, but he can expect a much fiercer battle this time. 

Endorsements

Mike Garcia

  • President Donald Trump

  • National Right to Life Committee

Christy Smith

  • Barack Obama

  • Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence

Relevant Stories
District 39

About the district

Diverse, well-educated and suburban, this may be the archetypical example of the once-solidly-GOP district that has slipped from Republican fingers in the Trump era. 

The Republican share of registered voters has been trending down for years, and Democrats now outnumber Republicans by 4 points. Even so, the 2018 election pitting a Latino veteran political novice against a well-known Korean American former legislator was a nail-biter. It took two weeks of ballot counting before anyone was ready to declare the Democrat the victor.

Where is the district?

Who are the candidates?

You’ve seen these two before: The lotto winning ex-Republican versus the former Assemblymember with the backing of the Orange County establishment. After a squeaker in 2018, this is the rematch.

Democrat

Gil Cisneros

Cisneros was an actual lottery winner. He was also lucky enough to make it past the 17-person primary and eke out a 3 point victory in one of 2018’s closest congressional races. Having those millions to spend on the race helped. A former Republican who became an education philanthropist after winning $266 million in 2010, he ran as moderate.

In Congress, Cisneros is on the Armed Services and Veterans Affairs committees, bolstering his foreign policy cred. After news of Trump’s Ukraine affair broke, Cisneros joined six fellow freshmen House Democrats — all veterans of the armed services or intelligence agencies — to call for an impeachment investigation. It was a turning point in the saga.

Republican

Young Kim

Kim’s loss in 2018 caught many by surprise. It was hard to imagine a Republican candidate better suited to the area. She was a Korean immigrant in a district with a large Korean community, and a skilled retail politician with electoral experience and connections to the Orange County party establishment. With experience in the state Assembly and close ties to the outcoming incumbent, Kim also had a knack throughout the campaign for saying as little as humanly possible about President Trump, who lost the district by 9 points. 

Republicans evidently still see her as their best chance in 2020, with donors rushing to her financial aid. Befitting an underdog hoping to unseat an incumbent, she’s been on the offensive. The barbs she’s directed at Cisneros have been less about policy and more about the company he keeps. Kim’s attack ads have criticized Cisneros for supporting San Francisco Rep. Nancy Pelosi for House speaker, and for taking campaign contributions from lobbyists and labor-affiliated political action committees.

What are the stakes?

Cisneros has reason for optimism, given the power of incumbency and the typically higher Democratic turnout of a presidential year. But a lot has happened since November 2018 and the incumbent no longer has the luxury of running as an outsider looking to shake up the system. 

Endorsements

Gil Cisneros

  • California Teachers Association

  • Everytown for Gun Safety

Young Kim

  • Retired Congressman Ed Royce

  • National Federation of Independent Business

Relevant Stories
District 45

About the district

Hugging the west side of the Santa Ana Mountains, this inland Orange County district runs from Yorba Linda’s edge to Mission Viejo. Republicans still narrowly outnumber Democrats district-wide, with dark blue clusters around UC Irvine. And as with much of Orange County, President Trump and his flavor of GOP politics are unpopular with this affluent, highly educated electorate. Since 2014, the GOP share of the electorate here has declined 7 points — a more precipitous drop than in any other congressional district on this list.

Where is the district?

Who are the candidates?

A banker-bashing progressive might not seem the most obvious fit for this district. But viral stardom and far more cash than the other candidate make the incumbent the clear favorite. 

Democrat

Katie Porter

Katie Porter is among the most well-known members of the 2019 freshman class. The UC Irvine bankruptcy law professor with an Elizabeth Warren-inspired left-leaning populism has a knack for dissolving bankers and presidential appointees into humiliating meme-able soundbites from her perch on the House Financial Services Committee. In fact, Sen. Warren used to be Porter’s professor at Harvard Law, and Porter was the co-chair of her presidential campaign. 

Porter’s virality has been good for fundraising — always a helpful thing inside the eye-poppingly expensive Los Angeles media market. But as a Medicare for All proponent, she is an unusual fit in a district where Republicans still outnumber Democrats.

Republican

Greg Raths

After 30 years in the Marine Corps and a stint at the White House Military Office, Raths ran for Congress twice unsuccessfully before finally winning a seat on Mission Viejo’s city council in 2018. That regular presence on the ballot might be the reason behind Raths’ second place finish during the primary. He won 18% of the vote, splitting the GOP share with five other candidates. He wasn’t the pick of the party establishment, and given Porter’s formidable fundraising advantage, it’s not clear GOP donors are willing to put enough behind Raths to make a real go of it. 

What are the stakes?

Can a progressive keep winning in a right-leaning district by ginning up enough enthusiasm from its bluest corners? Here’s the test case.

Endorsements

Katie Porter

  • Barack Obama

  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren

Greg Raths

  • Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association

  • State Senator Pat Bates

Relevant Stories
District 48

About the district

This 50-mile stretch of Orange County coastline represents the high-water mark of the blue wave. In no California congressional district represented by a Democrat are the Dems outnumbered by a larger spread (5%) or did President Trump receive a higher share of the 2016 vote (46%).

So how did a Democrat capture the seat? Democrats are hoping it was due to a strong candidate and a lasting shift of otherwise conservative voters away from the Trumpified GOP.

But Republicans are counting on a simpler answer: Dana Rohrabacher.

Where is the district?

Who are the candidates?

In one of Orange County’s last Republican bastions, a fortunate Democrat hangs on for his political life while Republicans rally around a well-known challenger.

Democrat

Harley Rouda

In the lead-up to the 2018 election, nowhere was anti-Trump electoral enthusiasm as concentrated as in Orange County. Harley Rouda, a wealthy real estate executive with no political experience, was one of eight Democrats to join the race. Their target: Rep. Rohrabacher, a mainstay of Orange County GOP politics whose preference for warmer U.S.-Russia relations earned him the derisive nickname “Putin’s favorite congressman.” 

Despite a pugnacious Twitter presence, Rouda, a former Republican, has gone out of his way to convey his moderate politics to the still GOP-leaning voters in his district. In the 2020 presidential primary, he was the first California member of Congress to endorse New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Republican

Michelle Steel

The once indomitable Orange County GOP political machine is still a force to be reckoned with and Steele sits at the center of it. A county supervisor going on six years and the current chair, she previously represented the region on the state’s Board of Equalization. She’s married to former Republican National Committeeman and ex-state party chair Shawn Steel. No surprise that since the beginning of the election season, she has had the backing of the state party and every California Republican member of Congress.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Steel has also been a central figure in Orange County’s resistance to the Newsom administration’s COVID-19 public health orders. In May, Steel authored a county resolution declaring churches “essential” services — controvening more restrictive state standards — and publicly pressured the county’s public health director to relax a mandatory mask regulation.

What are the stakes?

On paper, this is the Democrats’ most vulnerable congressional seat. If Republicans are able to take it back, it will indicate that their previous loss was more about Rohrabacher’s unpopularity than anything else. If Rouda holds on here on November 3, it’s a sign that Democrats are probably having a very good night. 

Endorsements

Harley Rouda

  • California Labor Federation

  • League of Conservation Voters

Michelle Steel

  • Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes

  • Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich

Relevant Stories
District 49

About the district

It’s a political mishmash of historic Republican strongholds (affluent Rancho Santa Fe, the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base, and San Clemente, home to President Nixon’s “Western White House”) alongside reliable Democratic voting blocs (seaside Encinitas, the UC San Diego Campus).

In practice, the district has a slight GOP-edge, an environmentalist streak and a recent history of voting for Democrats. In other words, a toss-up.

Where is the district?

Who are the candidates?

Of all the seats California Republicans lost in 2018, this district spanning Orange and San Diego counties may be the hardest one to retake.

Democrat

Mike Levin

Rep. Mike Levin seemed to come out of nowhere in 2018 — an environmental lawyer who was executive director of the Orange County Democratic Party. He won, the first Democrat to do so on this stretch of coast in at least a generation. And he did so by double digits. 

Since going to Washington, Levin’s legislative focus has been divided between veterans’ issues and clean energy. Along the way, he’s nabbed committee assignments that reflect the interests of the district: Veterans Affairs, Natural Resources and the newly formed Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.

Republican

Brian Maryott

The former mayor of San Juan Capistrano is running as a fiscal conservative, pointing to his career as a financial planner. But he also touts his support for environmental protection, his opposition to offshore oil drilling and his willingness to work with Democrats.

After the death of George Floyd and the resulting weeks of upheaval, Maryott has taken a sharper rhetorical tact, hammering Levin for what he calls his “silence” over the “defund the police” movement. On his campaign website, Maryott lists himself as “law enforcement’s choice.”

What are the stakes?

If recent trends are any predictor, this may be the GOP’s last chance to reclaim this district before it slips into the Democratic column for good.

Endorsements

Mike Levin

  • The San Diego Union-Tribune

  • Everytown for Gun Safety

Brian Maryott

  • Kevin Faulconer, mayor of San Diego

  • Deputy Sheriff's Association Of San Diego County

Relevant Stories
District 50

About the district

Head 20 miles inland and San Diego County gets very conservative very quickly. Ranging from suburban to exurban to rural, this is one of the most Republican districts in the state. GOP voters outnumber Democrats by 10 points, and Trump won here by 15.

But Republicans are carrying some baggage into this election. Baggage called “former Congressman Duncan Hunter.”

In December of 2019, the Marine combat veteran from a San Diego political family — who spent the 2018 election accusing his opponent of ties to terrorism — pleaded guilty to misusing more than $200,000 in campaign contributions. Federal prosecutors said he misappropriated the funds for (among other things) bar benders, school tuition, extra-marital engagements and a cross-country flight for a pet bunny.

Where is the district?

Who are the candidates?

In January Hunter stepped down to the collective relief of Republicans across the state. That would seem to clear the way for any non-indicted Republican to stroll to victory. But the Democrat in the race might mount a surprisingly strong challenge.

Republican

Darrell Issa

A car alarm magnate with millions to spend, Issa represented a coastal district for much of the past decade as the richest member of Congress. His combative style on the House oversight committee during the Obama years endeared him to Republicans across the country. With the president’s approval rating tanking in the coastal suburbs, Issa cast his last decisive vote against the Republican-sponsored tax bill before announcing that he would not be seeking reelection in his old district. A few months later, Democrat Mike Levin took the 49th congressional seat by a decisive margin. 

Now Issa, having found himself a friendlier electorate, is running in this district. In the primary, he successfully elbowed aside competing Republicans in a contest that largely centered around who was more loyal to the president. Now he faces a Democrat, which was undoubtedly the outcome he preferred.

Democrat

Ammar Campa-Najjar

An Obama White House intern who then handled public affairs at the U.S. Labor Department, he’s the millennial son of Mexican and Palestinian immigrants. When he ran for this seat in 2018, it would have seemed a lost electoral cause in this district but for the ongoing federal investigation into his opponent. He did lose to Hunter, but by less than 4 points. 

Now the 31-year-old is hoping to prove that his over-performance in the midterms was about more than the disasterousness of his opponent. He’s not running as a progressive, instead touting his support for gun rights and border security and promising to be the “most conservative congressman in San Diego.” In October 2020, he angered Democratic activists by saying he was undecided in the presidential race and that, if elected, he would consider supporting an investigation into Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Despite the long odds, he’s benefiting from some political tail winds in 2020. Those include strong fundraising, the institutional backing of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, a less competitive Congressional map in California than expected allowing for a bit of extra help from national Democrats, and a spattering of summer polls suggesting that maybe — just maybe — he actually has a shot.

What are the stakes?

WIth Hunter gone, hope that a young Democrat could win here has faded. But against a well-known, well-funded opponent in Campa-Najjar, Issa is at least going to have to work for his return ticket to Congress.

Endorsements

Darrell Issa

  • President Donald Trump

  • Kevin Faulconer, mayor of San Diego

Ammar Campa-Najjar

  • Sierra Club

  • Service Employees International Union

Relevant Stories
District 53

About the district

Hooking north and east around San Diego proper before extending into the suburbs, this district has been solidly Democratic since the 1990s. These days its demographic profile is a pretty good description of the national party: majority non-white, a mix of urban core and inner suburbs, a few highly educated enclaves and a large LGBTQ neighborhood. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-to-1.

Where is the district?

Who are the candidates?

Rep. Susan Davis’ decision not to seek reelection triggered an electoral blitz as a small army of Democrats rushed to lay claim to this safe seat. 

Democrat

Georgette Gomez

As president of the San Diego City Council going on four years, Gomez climbed the ladder of local politics and has the endorsements of the local powers-that-be to show for it. If elected, she would be the first openly LGBTQ Latina to serve in Congress — not an insignificant selling point in a district that’s home to the historically gay Hillcrest and North Park neighborhoods, and where one-in-three residents is Latino.

Gomez is also a favorite of the left. In January, Gomez, who supports universal Medicare and the “Green New Deal,” earned the endorsement of Sen. Bernie Sanders. She’s also backed by the Justice Democrats, the political action committee created by former Sanders campaign staffers who helped propel Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib into Congress.

Democrat

Sara Jacobs

A millennial alum of both the Obama administration and the Clinton presidential campaign, Jacobs has never held office, although she made an unsuccessful bid in a different district in 2018. Saying she was spurred to run after the election of President Trump, she is no conservative — she supports Medicare for All. But given that the Sanders camp and organized labor groups are backing her opponent, she is the default option for moderate voters. In August, she was endorsed by a former GOP congressional candidate. 

What are the stakes?

In one of the bluest districts in the state, here’s the question: Which version of the Democratic Party do voters prefer?

Endorsements

Georgette Gomez

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders

  • California Democratic Party

Sara Jacobs

  • Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis

  • California Association of Realtors

Relevant Stories
Click to show more
Election Feed