Major California races could determine which party controls Congress

With millions of ballots still to be counted in California, the results of last Tuesday’s midterm election could shift the balance of power in the House of Representatives. While the state is a Democrat stronghold, UC San Diego political science professor Thad Kousser said Republicans can still chip away at a few victories.

“We’re not all blue,” he said. “There are purple bags and of course red bags.”

One of those Republican victories could be in San Diego County. Incumbent Mike Levin leads in the 49th congressional district, which spans North Coast San Diego and South Orange counties, but there are enough votes that could leave it to his Republican challenger, Brian Maryott.

Looking ahead to that election, Levin’s seat was considered reversible after the redistribution, Kousser said. It was worrying enough that President Joe Biden and Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg made trips to San Diego to bolster the Democratic incumbent.

“The fact that there’s Orange County, which is Republican-leaning in many areas in Orange County’s 49th[district]the fact that there’s Oceanside, which has so many veteran groups that are leaning Republican this half-term, it all made it very difficult for Mike Levin to cover ground,” said Kousser.

The ballot, released just after 5 p.m. Monday, put Levin ahead of Maryott by 12,796 votes, although more than 100,000 ballots remain to be counted in both San Diego and Orange County. It is not known how many of these ballots are in the 49th Precinct.

After securing control of the Senate over the weekend with victories for Democratic Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto in Nevada and Mark Kelly in Arizona, the Democratic Party is now attempting to retain control of the House of Representatives.

“There are about a half-dozen races in California that are close enough and the balance between Democrats and Republicans nationally in the house races is close enough that the California races are likely to determine the outcome,” said Casey Dominguez, Professor of Political Science at the University of San Diego.

Currently, the GOP has 212 seats and the Democrats have 204. 218 seats are needed to control the House of Representatives. To keep the House, Democrats must have victories in California’s Districts 13, 22, 27, 41, and 47.

The 13th district is in the Central Valley, and it’s a statistical dead heat with fewer than 100 votes separating Democrat, Adam Gray and Republican John Duarte.

The 47th is in Orange County, and incumbent Democratic Rep. Katie Porter is leading, but Republican challenger Scott Baugh has a strong showing.

The 41st is in Riverside County. Incumbent Republican Rep. Ken Calvert leads, but Democratic challenger Will Rollins can still make the difference.

All of this signals a shift in voting demographics in these regions.

“I think that the redistribution of counties and demographics are changing California politics and opening up these opportunities for a couple of counties that could change,” Kousser said. “One in the Modesto area, an area that has become more and more demographically diverse. It’s not just what the Central Valley looked like a generation ago.”

“Both Orange County and Riverside have demographic shifts,” Dominguez said. “One thing we’re seeing is that counties with higher-educated populations have transitioned to Democrats in recent years.”