This is a modified version of the original story by Dan Walters for use in classrooms.
Political handicappers almost all expect that Democrats will lose their very thin majority in the House of Representatives this year.
However, it may be closer than expected. If so, what happens in a few California congressional districts could make the difference.
On paper, Democrats should make gains in California this year. They might gain as many as five seats. This is largely due to how an independent redistricting commission changed the state’s 52 congressional districts after the 2020 census.
The 2020 census showed changes in California. There was an increase in the state’s Latino population. Also, fewer Republicans registered to vote. This caused most of the 11 Republican-held districts to get smaller GOP voter shares.
That was bad news for Republicans who had barely won election or re-election in 2020. In 2020 the GOP only regained four of the seven seats it had lost in 2018.
Democrats’ most serious GOP targets are Michelle Steel and Young Kim in Orange County and Ken Calvert in Riverside County. Mike Garcia in the suburbs of northern Los Angeles County and David Valadao in the southern San Joaquin Valley are also targets.
The district represented by Garcia shows the clearest effect of redistricting. Garcia won his seat in a 2020 election and then a full term later that year. To win and retain his seat, Garcia defeated Democrat Christy Smith twice. He only won by 333 votes the second time.
The redistricting commission cut some territory from Garcia’s district. This area cut often votes for Republicans. These voters will no longer be able to vote for Garcia. As he faces Smith for a third time, she enjoys an 11-percentage point Democratic voter registration advantage.
Former President Donald Trump’s legacy is a factor in two of the targeted districts.
Calvert has been a congressman for twenty years. He was one of Trump’s most outspoken supporters in Congress. Democratic challenger Will Rollins is using that connection to Trump to run against Calvert. This might help Rollins win in a district where voter registration is almost tied.
Valadao is one of 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump. He is one of only two on the ballot this fall. However, Valadao must defeat Democratic challenger Rudy Salas. Salas is a state Assembly member. The district now has a 17-percentage-point Democratic registration margin. This might help Salas defeat Valadao.
Kim and Steel also face tough re-election battles. Both are Asian. Some people think this will help. Handicappers give both better than 50-50 chances of getting elected again.
There are two months until the election. Biden is not popular with voters right now. Low voter turnout could also hurt Democrats’ chances to win in California.
The University of Virginia’s Center for Politics makes highly rated Crystal Ball reports on political campaigns. The center says Biden’s standing is the biggest reason Democrats might lose the House.
California is very much a Democratic state. However, Biden doesn’t do well among its voters. A new poll by UC-Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies was released last week. It found that 61% of California voters don’t want Biden to seek a second term. That number includes 46% of Democrats.
Also, this year’s election may not encourage high voter turnout. There are no real statewide races to generate voter enthusiasm. There are no ballot measures with strong appeal. What happens in California this year could save the Democratic House majority. However, it’s not likely.