The Biggest California Congressional Races to Watch on Super Tuesday

The Biggest California Congressional Races to Watch on Super Tuesday

A voter prepares their ballot at a polling station during early voting in Los Angeles on Nov. 1, 2022. (Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images)

Brad Jones

Brad Jones

2/27/2024

Updated: 3/13/2024

The outcome of California’s congressional races on Super Tuesday could set the scene for several high-stakes showdowns on Nov. 5, which could shift the balance of power in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“There’s a big national chess game going on,” said Jon Fleischman, a political strategist and former executive director of the California Republican Party. “There’s only so many districts that are in play. A lot of them are in California, but they’re only a relatively small fraction of districts.”
Republicans currently hold a slim majority in the House. California has 52 congressional seats, a delegation comprising 40 Democrats and 12 Republicans.
In California’s “open” or “jungle” primary system, only the top two vote-getters—regardless of party—in the March 5 primary will move on to the Nov. 5 general election.
Three Democrat House representatives who left their congressional seats to run for U.S. Senate, and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s sudden resignation, have opened the door to several new contests in addition to expected close races in swing districts.
Here are the key districts to watch.

District 13

In a rematch of the second-tightest congressional race nationwide in 2022—with fewer than 600 votes separating the candidates out of more than 133,000 cast—incumbent Republican Rep. John Duarte will face off against Democrat Adam Gray, a former state assemblyman, in the District 13.
Analysts expect another close race, with the outcome potentially affecting control of the House. Some point to light voter turnout in 2022 as a sign the seat could flip with more participation during the presidential election in November.
Encompassing the Central Valley—including the entirety of Merced County and areas within Fresno, Madera, San Joaquin, and Stanislaus counties—the district was redrawn following the 2020 census that saw California lose a congressional seat due to population loss.

District 20

Eleven candidates are vying to fill District 20 seat vacated by former Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who resigned at the end of 2023 shortly after his historic removal from the speaker’s chair.
The district is deep red and registered Republican voters outnumber Democrats by 20 percentage points. The most prominent Republican candidates are state Assemblyman Vince Fong, Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux, and businessman David Giglio.
Democrat Marisa Wood appears to be the strongest in her party, finishing second in the 2022 primary.
Mr. Fong scored 27 percent in an Emerson College poll of 565 likely voters conducted in January. Mr. Boudreaux and Ms. Wood each gained 11 percent.
Mr. Fong’s recent endorsement from former President Donald Trump and Mr. McCarthy is a “big deal” that could have a significant impact on the race, according to Mr. Fleischman.
Mr. McCarthy’s political allies are moving a lot of money into a political action committee, or PAC, to support Mr. Fong, who is “very well known, very popular, and very conservative,” Mr. Fleischman said.
Mr. Boudreaux may have a shot at winning, but President Trump’s endorsement of Mr. Fong likely caught the sheriff’s supporters, many who are “Trumpy people,” completely off guard, Mr. Fleischman said.
“My understanding is that McCarthy worked very hard behind the scenes to get the endorsement of Trump,” he said.
The district, Mr. Fleischman said, is “the safest Republican seat in California.”

District 22

The 22nd District is one of eight California congressional seats the Democratic National Committee (DNC) hopes to flip in 2024.
Republican Rep. David Valadao was elected in the newly redrawn district in 2020 with 51 percent of the vote, defeating Democrat Rudy Salas. Some 42 percent of registered voters in the 22nd District are Democrats and just under 27 percent are Republicans.
Mr. Salas is again contesting the race, along with Trump-aligned Republican Chris Mathys, a former Fresno city councilor, and Democrat state Sen. Melissa Hurtado.
Mr. Valadao had raised more than $1.4 million as of Jan. 1, far outstripping his competitors.
The Cook Political Report calls the race a toss-up.

District 27

The DNC also wants to flip California’s 27th District in November. The incumbent Rep. Mike Garcia is one of five Republicans who won districts carried by President Joe Biden in 2020.
Mr. Garcia won the seat in a special election in May 2020 and held it in the general election that followed in November.
Democrat George Whitesides is the strongest challenger and seems likely to be Mr. Garcia’s opponent in November. Mr. Whitesides is a former chief of staff at NASA and former CEO of Virgin Galactic.
Both campaigns have raised over $3 million. Cook Political Report lists the contest as a toss-up.
“I think of all of the races, this will be the closest,” Mr. Fleischman said. “Mike Garcia is a very tenacious campaigner, but this is going to be a toss-up seat.”

District 30

District 30 is now up for grabs as Democrat Rep. Adam Schiff leads the race for the U.S. Senate seat long held by the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
The district encompasses Burbank, Hollywood, Hollywood Hills, Echo Park, Elysian Valley, Fairfax, Glendale, Griffith Park, Hancock Park, Larchmont Village, and Pasadena.
Fifteen candidates—12 Democrats, two Republicans, and one listed as no party preference—are vying for the congressional seat which Mr. Schiff has held for more than two decades.
The Democrat candidates are state Sen. Anthony Portantino, who chairs the state Senate Appropriations Committee; state Assemblywoman Laura Friedman; former state assemblyman and Los Angeles city attorney Mike Feuer; transgender activist G. “Maebe A. Girl” Pudlo; Los Angeles school board member Nick Melvoin; West Hollywood Mayor Sepi Shyne; actor, producer, and businessman Ben Savage; legislative adviser Francesco Arreaga; government affairs director Steve Dunwoody; public health advocate and former legislative director Jirair Ratevosian; community services director Sal Genovese; and full-time student Courtney Najera.
Republican candidates are Alex Balekian, an intensive care physician, and J. Emilio Martinez, a producer, writer, and comedian.
Josh Bocanegra, the no party preference candidate, is an artificial intelligence developer and entrepreneur.

District 47

In District 47, Rep. Katie Porter, a Democrat, defeated Republican Scott Baugh by a narrow margin in 2022 with 51.7 percent of the total vote, but she is giving up her House seat to run for U.S. Senate.
Mr. Baugh, a business attorney, is the former longtime chairman of the Orange County Republican Party and a former state Assembly Republican leader. He is one of three Republicans, including Max Ukropina and Long Pham, running in the primary. The Democrat candidates are state Sen. Dave Min, Boyd Roberts, Joanna Weiss, and Shariq Zaidi.
The no party preference candidates are Terry Crandall, Tom McGrath, and Bill Smith.
Mr. Fleischman said Mr. Baugh appears well-positioned and funded to win, but he expects to see a close race for second place.
“They’re going to be counting ballots for a long time, and I suspect it’s going to be very, very tight,” he said. “And then it will be a top-tier target race after that. Whoever wins that will go into the general election with their gas tank on empty, and Baugh will go into the general election with a couple of million dollars in the bank already. And then, obviously, there will be a lot of outside money that comes in.”
Several Republican super PACs are already lining up to back Mr. Baugh if he makes it through the primary, Mr. Fleischman said.

District 31

Incumbent Rep. Grace Napolitano, who was first elected to the House in 1998, is not running for reelection in District 31.
In 2022, she defeated Republican Daniel Martinez, who is running again, this time against six Democrats including state Sen. Susan Rubio, Bob Archuleta, Gil Cisneros, Gregory Hafif, Kurt Jose, and Mary Ann Lutz. One other Republican, Pedro Casas, and two no party preference candidates, Erskine Levi and Y. Marie Manvel, are also vying for the seat.
Mr. Cisneros, a 2010 Mega Millions lottery jackpot winner and a former congressman from 2019 to 2021, has spent more than $4.5 million in this race, according to FEC data.

District 12

District 12 has been held by Rep. Barbara Lee, a progressive Democrat, for more than two decades, but she’s given up the seat to run for U.S. Senate. The district—which includes Oakland and Berkeley, both known for far-left activism—is shaping up to be an interesting contest. Though not a swing district, this densely populated region centered in the Bay Area’s Alameda County runs from Albany in the north to San Leandro in the south.
Nearly 70 percent of registered voters here are Democrats, less than 6 percent are Republicans, and about 20 percent are no party preference.
The district is “solid blue” according to the Cook Political Report, but the winner of the primary race might reflect whether Oakland voters have had enough of the progressive policies blamed for a sharp rise in violent crime, retail theft, and smash-and-grab robberies.
Earlier in February, Gov. Gavin Newsom deployed 120 California Highway Patrol (CHP) officers to launch “a law enforcement surge operation” in Oakland and the East Bay. The CHP officers, he said, will work with local law enforcement agencies on “a targeted crackdown on criminal activity, including vehicle theft, retail theft, and violent crime.”
Seven Democrats and two Republicans are running in for the seat.
Democrat Lateefah Simon, a longtime social justice activist, was appointed by Mr. Newsom to co-chair a statewide Task Force on Police Reform during the height of Black Lives Matter protests in 2020. She is president of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) board.
Other Democrat candidates are Jennifer Tran, a professor, small business owner, and Oakland native born to Vietnamese refugee parents; Andre Todd, a U.S. Navy veteran and the grandson of a Baptist church minister; Tony Daysog, vice mayor of Alameda and the Hawaiian-born son of a Nagasaki atomic bomb survivor; Glenn Kaplan, a small business owner; Abdur Sikder, a social justice advocate; and Eric Wilson, who has worked for an unspecified nonprofit agency.
Ms. Simon is endorsed by state Attorney General Rob Bonta, other prominent elected state Democrats, and several groups including teachers unions. She has far outraised opponents in campaign funds, according to the most recent data available from the FEC.
Four years ago, Ms. Simon joined a BART leadership effort to defund the police, pledging to pull $2 million in funding for officers and spend it on uniformed but unarmed “ambassadors.”
The Republicans in the race are Ned Nuerge, a driving instructor, and Stephen Slauson, an electrical engineer.

District 16

Rep. Anna Eshoo is not seeking reelection in District 16, leaving this deep blue area up for grabs.
In 2022, Ms. Eshoo did not face a Republican in the general election, defeating fellow Democrat Rishi Kumar with 57.8 percent of the vote.
Eleven candidates are running in the primary. The Democrats are Rishi Kumar, state Assemblyman Evan Low, Joby Bernstein, Peter Dixon, Sam Liccardo, Greg Tanaka, Julie Lythcott-Haims, Ahmed Mostafa, and Joe Simitian.
Republicans are Peter Ohtaki and Karly Ryan.

District 45

Republican incumbent Rep. Michelle Steel is running against four Democrats in District 45 and will likely hold the northern Orange County district, which has a large Asian population, including Little Saigon, Mr. Fleischman said.
Ms. Steel is a strong candidate who “raises a lot of money,” Mr. Fleischman said.
“This is going to be a very hard seat for Democrats to pick off … but stranger things have happened,” he said, adding that anything can happen when local races are “nationalized.”
“You’ve got Biden and Trump at the top of the ticket, and that creates adversity and opportunity all the way through to the election,” he said.
Democrats vying for the seat are Kim Nguyen-Penaloza, Derek Tran, Aditya Pai, and Cheyenne Hunt.

District 40

In District 40, Republican Rep. Young Kim, will face two Democrats on March 5. They are Allyson Damikolas, an engineer and Tustin Unified School District trustee, and Joe Kerr, a fire captain with the Orange County Fire Authority and first president of the Orange County Professional Firefighters Association.
In the 2022 general election, Ms. Kim defeated Democrat Asif Mahmood with 56.8 percent of the vote.
“That’s a safe Republican seat … especially given how much money she raises and has in the bank,” Mr. Fleischman said.

District 41

In District 41, Republican Rep. Ken Calvert, who was first elected to the House in 1992 and is one of the most senior members of congress, will face two Democrat challengers, Will Rollins and Anna Nevenic. In the 2022 general election, Mr. Calvert defeated Mr. Rollins by more than 11,000 votes with 52.3 percent of the 236,638 total votes.
San Jacinto city councilor Brian Hawkins, who ran unsuccessfully as a Republican in 2022 and then flipped to the Democratic Party, has dropped out of the race. He was arrested in July on suspicion of felony assault, and his case is pending in the courts.
Lawrence Wilson and Travis Gillmore contributed to this report. 
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Brad Jones

Brad Jones

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Brad Jones is an award-winning journalist based in Southern California.

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