US home win by ex-fighter pilot in California cements Republican control

LOS ANGELES — Republican Rep. Mike Garcia, a former Navy fighter pilot, scored a victory in the US House in a heavily Democratic district on Wednesday, handing control of the chamber to the GOP and giving the party a rare reason to celebrate in one of Democrat-dominated state.

The conservative Republican was re-elected to a third term in a district that boasts a 12.5-point Democratic registration advantage and was carried by double digits by then-presidential nominee Joe Biden in 2020. It was Garcia’s third straight win over Democrat Christy Smith, a former lawmaker.

Garcia was first elected in a special election in May 2020 and was re-elected two years ago by just 333 votes. He faced an even tougher challenge this year after his left-leaning district was redrawn and became more solidly Democratic.

With almost 75% of the ballots counted, Garcia had 54.2% versus Smith’s 45.8%.

Though his victory carried historic weight by putting the Republicans at the head of the House of Representatives, “the mission remains the same,” Garcia said in a statement, pledging to work to “put our country back on track.”

Garcia, who flew over 30 combat missions during Operation Iraqi Freedom, is the only member of the GOP House with a district anchored in heavily Democratic Los Angeles County.

It takes 218 seats to control the House of Representatives. With the addition of the latest California results, Republicans have locked 218 seats so far while Democrats claimed 211.

In another key race in the state, Democratic Rep. Mike Levin repelled a tough challenge from Republican businessman Brian Maryott in a Southern California district spanning Orange and San Diego counties.

For almost all votes counted, Levin had 52.65% versus 47.4% for Maryott.

Levin said he is eager to return to Washington to continue working on affordable health care, climate change and support for veterans. Biden traveled to the county in the final days of the election hoping to give Levin a boost.

Garcia’s victory, which gave Republicans control of the House of Representatives, came with a dash of political insolence, and arrived in a state so solidly Democratic that a Republican has not won a statewide race since 2006. It is also home to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco. California is known nationally as a liberal monolith, but there are still niches of conservative strength, mostly in Southern California’s suburbs and rural and farm areas.

But even with the victories, Republicans will remain a small minority within the state’s congressional delegation.

Of the state’s 52 seats — the largest delegation in Congress — the GOP candidates had captured just nine as of Wednesday. The count continued in five counties, though one was a matchup between two Democrats.

Smith, a former lawmaker, had argued Garcia was at odds with the district’s voters: He was endorsed by then-President Trump in 2020 and then aligned himself with House Republicans rejecting electoral votes from Arizona and Pennsylvania and opposing Trump’s impeachment after the riot in the Capitol. She also highlighted Garcia’s opposition to abortion rights.

Garcia emphasized his military service and cited his agreement to support $2,000 stimulus checks as an example of his political independence. He has also highlighted local issues, including concerns about illegal marijuana cultivation.

In California, the main battlegrounds of the houses are Orange County — a suburb southeast of Los Angeles that was once a GOP stronghold but has become increasingly diverse and democratic — and the Central Valley, an inland section sometimes referred to for its agricultural production called the nation’s salad bowl.

The closest remaining competition in the state arose in the Central Valley, where Democrat Adam Gray captured a razor-thin lead over Republican John Duarte for a vacant seat in District 13.

To underscore the closeness of the race, Gray’s campaign formed a committee to raise money to fund a possible recount. The most recent results showed Gray leading by 600 votes, with almost 85% of the ballots tabulated.

In Orange County, Democratic Rep. Katie Porter held a nearly 3-point lead over Republican Scott Baugh in one of the nation’s marquee races. Baugh had halved her lead earlier this week but Porter, a star of the party’s progressive wing, rebounded. Around 90% of the votes were counted.

In the Central Valley’s 22nd District, where about two-thirds of the votes were counted, Republican Rep. David Valadao, who voted to impeach then-President Donald Trump, had a 5.6-point lead over Democrat Rudy Salas.