Republicans Stake Congressional Victory, Claim Seat Katie Hill Vacated
LOS ANGELES — Republican Mike Garcia claimed victory Wednesday in the race for an open congressional seat north of Los Angeles, the first time the GOP has flipped a California district from blue to red in more than 20 years.
Garcia, 44, a defense industry executive and former Navy fighter pilot, held a double-digit lead over Democratic state Assemblywoman Christy Smith, who issued a statement conceding even as more than 20,000 ballots remained to be processed.
“While it’s critical to ensure every vote is counted and recorded, we believe that the current tally shows Mike Garcia is the likely victor,” Smith said. “As such, I’d like to congratulate him.”
The election Tuesday was held to fill the seat vacated by former Democratic Rep. Katie Hill. She resigned last fall after nude photos of her were leaked and the House Ethics Committee opened a probe into allegations that the congresswoman had an affair with a Hill staffer.
Garcia was chosen to finish out the term ending in January; he will face Smith again in November in a bid to win a full two years in Congress.
“I’m ready to go to work,” Garcia said in a victory statement.
Republicans were quick to trumpet their success — President Donald Trump issued a celebratory tweet even before the race was decided — and said it would boost their chances of taking back control of the House in November.
The last time the GOP flipped a Democratic-held California district was 1998, when Republicans Doug Ose and Steve Kuykendall won open seat contests in, respectively, Sacramento and the South Bay area of L.A.
“Winning in California bodes extremely well for the GOP’s ability to win anywhere else in the country,” said Dan Conston, head of the Congressional Leadership Fund, a Republican political action committee that spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on Garcia’s behalf.
But more impartial analysts warned against reading too much into the results, noting the idiosyncratic nature of special elections like the one held in the 25th Congressional District.
“Garcia is something of a political unicorn,” said David Wasserman, a nonpartisan elections expert with the Cook Political Report. “He’s a Republican who is a lot of things Trump isn’t: a military veteran, a son of a Mexican immigrant and an even-keeled defense executive.”
Hill broke a decadeslong Republican hold on the district, which sprawls from Simi Valley to the high desert communities of Palmdale and Lancaster, winning a decisive victory over Rep. Steve Knight in the November 2018 midterm election. When Hill quit, Smith, who had just won her Assembly seat, quickly became the party’s favorite to take Hill’s place.
Smith finished first in the March 3 primary, but fell well short of the majority needed to win the seat outright. Garcia, making his first try for political office, ran second in the crowded field, beating Knight and setting up Tuesday’s runoff.
Although registered Democrats outnumber Republicans, both sides believed the contest would be competitive.
Lower-turnout elections like Tuesday’s vote tend to draw an older and whiter electorate, which typically benefits Republicans. Also, get-out-the-vote efforts were heavily circumscribed by the COVID-19 pandemic, which limited the candidates to virtual appearances and foreclosed door-knocking and other personal campaigning that is most effective in coaxing inattentive voters to the polls.
Still, some Democrats felt they could — and should — have won the contest, given Trump’s enormous unpopularity in California and Garcia’s unabashed support for the president.
“No excuses,” said Bob Mulholland, a veteran state political strategist, who said Democrats were too complacent and “full of themselves.”
“They let Christy Smith down,” he said.
Still, Mulholland insisted the dynamic will be different come the fall and the much larger turnout expected in November, giving Smith the chance for a do-over of sorts.
“By October, Garcia will have a Trump tattoo on his forehead,” Mulholland said. “Democrats had better not fail.”
©2020 Los Angeles Times
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
In The News
Public skepticism about coronavirus vaccines and enthusiasm on the right for so-called herd immunity are colliding as the U.S. outbreak is worsening, developments that could dash hopes for containing COVID-19 in the months ahead. Herd immunity aims instead to expose more people to the coronavirus, to build protection... Read More
KILL DEVIL HILLS, N.C. - In the final throes of an increasingly daunting reelection campaign, President Donald Trump is revving up his rally schedule and whipping his supporters into a frenzy with the type of nonstop outrage that helped make him the most polarizing political figure of his time.... Read More
WASHINGTON - Amid ongoing COVID-19 economic aid negotiations and the approaching election, the Senate shot down on Tuesday a standalone measure authorizing a second round of forgivable loans to small businesses. Republicans were unified in their attempt to push forward the bill while nearly all Democrats voted against the bill on a... Read More
WASHINGTON - Two of three judges on a Washington appeals court appeared skeptical of President Donald Trump's renewed efforts to prevent accounting firm Mazars USA LLP from turning over his financial records to House Democrats. At a hearing Tuesday before the U.S. Court of Appeals, two judges appointed by Democratic presidents seemed to dispute claims... Read More
WASHINGTON - House Democrats on Tuesday unveiled broad ocean-themed climate legislation, touting the world's oceans as underappreciated tools to combat rising temperatures. "Until today, ocean climate solutions have been mostly out of sight and out of mind in the U.S.," said Jane Lubchenco, who led the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration during the... Read More
WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump's campaign burned through almost half of its cash in September, as his reelection effort cut back on advertising in some key battleground states and he lags in the polls behind his much better-funded Democratic adversary, Joe Biden. The latest filing with the Federal Election Commission showed that... Read More