Republican U.S. House candidates padded their leads Friday in battleground districts in California, as the party sought to win back seats lost to Democrats two years ago.
The increases were not decisive but continued momentum for GOP candidates who could deliver major surprises in a heavily Democratic state in a year when Democrat Joe Biden trounced President Donald Trump on Election Day.
Democrats seized seven GOP-held seats in 2018 but appear in danger of losing as many as four of those districts just two years later, though tens of thousands of votes remain uncounted. Democrats currently hold 45 of the California’s 53 House seats.
FIGHT FOR THE GOP HOMELAND
For decades Orange County was known as Republican holy ground, but a diversifying population brought political change. In 2018 the realignment became undeniable as Democrats seized the last four seats all or partly in the county in defeats, stunning Republicans.
This year, however, could deliver some swift reversals for the Democrats. Republican Michelle Steel opened up a slightly larger lead Friday over Democratic Rep. Harley Rouda in the coastal 48th District. She now holds about a 6,200-vote advantage and has been padding her edge daily.
Republican Young Kim lost a close race to Democratic Rep. Gil Cisneros in 2018. But this year she’s been narrowly ahead in their rematch in the 39th District that is divided among Orange, Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties.
She added to her lead Friday, and now holds a 2,600-vote cushion over her rival. Democrats attacked Kim, a former legislator who was born in South Korea and grew up in Guam, as a devoted Trump acolyte. Cisneros campaigned on improving health care.
CENTRAL VALLEY SHOWDOWN
Republican David Valadao lost his farm-belt 21st District seat to Democrat TJ Cox two years ago. But the former congressman has widened his lead by nearly 1,300 votes and now holds about a 4-point edge in their rematch this year.
Valadao endorsed Trump after withholding his backing in 2016 — a risk in a district the president lost by 15 points in 2016 — but he also emphasized he has broken with the White House at times, including criticizing the administration for family separations at the border.
A CONGRESSMAN RETURNS?
Republican former Rep. Darrell Issa was well known during his days on Capitol Hill for tormenting the Obama administration when he headed the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee from 2011 to January 2015.
He didn’t run for re-election in 2018 when his San Diego County-based 49th District began tilting Democratic. But he’s back this year hoping to return to Capitol Hill in the more conservative neighboring 50th District that runs through the eastern part of the county.
It was held by Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter until he resigned earlier this year after pleading guilty to a federal corruption charge. Results Friday showed Issa building his lead over Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar to more than 19,000 votes.
A FORMER FIGHTER PILOT HOPES TO HANG ON NEAR LA
Rep. Mike Garcia, a former Navy combat pilot and defense industry executive, easily won a special election in May to fill the vacant 25th District north of Los Angeles. His rematch with Democrat Christy Smith remains very close, though he’s now built a lead of over 400 votes.
The swing district anchored in Los Angeles County, which includes a slice of Ventura County that is home to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, was open after freshman Democrat Katie Hill resigned suddenly amid an ethics investigation.
It’s a Democratic-leaning district and it’s notable that Garcia’s gains Friday came in an updated count in Los Angeles County, where Democrats typically prosper. His stronghold of Ventura County did not update its vote tally.