'Nail-biter': Here are the California congressional races to watch on Tuesday

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ByLiz Kreutz via KGO logo
Thursday, November 3, 2022
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Here are the key California congressional races to watch on Election Day next Tuesday.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Will Democrats or Republicans win control of the House of Representatives in Tuesday's midterm election? The answer could be determined by just a handful of key races in California.

"We have a situation in Congress where a flip of five districts will determine who controls Congress," Paul Mitchell, a political pollster and vice president of Political Data Inc, told ABC7 News. "So, California does have the ability to impact the house in these competitive districts."

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Mitchell is tracking roughly seven tight races through the Central Valley down into Southern California, including District 47 in Orange County where Democratic Congresswoman Katie Porter -- who has gone viral for her use of a whiteboard during congressional hearings -- is at risk of losing her seat. And District 49 in San Diego, where President Biden is campaigning this week to boost vulnerable Democratic incumbent Mike Levin.

"There are a number that are real nail-biters," he said of the House races. "Those range from being some that are Democratic held and some that are Republican held."

Critical house races

According to Mitchell, these are some of the key races to watch (some more competitive than others):

CA-9 (San Joaquin County): Democratic Incumbent Josh Harder vs. Republican Tom Patti, a San Joaquin County Supervisor.

CA-13 (Merced): Open seat/no incumbent. Democratic Assemblymember Adam Gray vs. Republican businessman and farmer John Duarte.

CA-22 (Central Valley): Republican incumbent David Valadao vs. Democratic Assemblymember Rudy Salas.

CA-27 (North Los Angeles County): Republican incumbent Mike Garcia vs. Democratic Assemblymember Christy Smith.

CA-47 (Irvine): Democratic incumbent Katie Porter vs. Republican attorney Scott Baugh.

CA-49 (North San Diego County and Orange County): Democratic incumbent Mike Levin vs. Republican financial planner and businessman Brian Maryott.

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Mitchell says he is also watching California's 41st Congressional District. FiveThirtyEight calls the district "solid Republican," but Mitchell said the race between Republican incumbent Ken Calvert and Democrat Will Rollins is still noteworthy. He said that due to new congressional redistricting, Calvert -- who has a record of opposing LGBTQ+ rights -- now has Palm Springs in his district.

"He has inherited one of the most gay, actively gay, cities in the country," Mitchell explained, "Where the city council, local elected leadership is all very progressive, especially on that one issue around gay rights."

The race, he said, "is not seen as being as much of a nail-biter, but given the dynamics for Congressman Calvert, it is definitely one to watch."

The Latino vote

Key to these races is turnout, especially among Latino voters.

"In each of these districts, at play all across the state, is that there is a significant Latino electorate," Christian Arana, the vice president of policy at the Latino Community Foundation, told ABC7 News. "Some of these districts, at the very minimum, have at least one in five eligible voters that are Latino."

Arana said, because of that, Latino voters could be critical in determining the outcome of these races -- and, thus, the future of the House. "Depending how Latinos turn out to vote in this election, if they do at all," Arana said, "Latinos in California could ultimately decide who is in the majority come January 2023."

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Both Arana and Mitchell said this is most true in two of those critical toss-up races: District 22 in the Central Valley between Republican David Valadao and Democrat Rudy Salas, who would become the first Latino congressperson to represent the Central Valley if he wins. And District 27 in northern Los Angeles County between Republican Mike Garcia and Democrat Christy Smith. (Congressional remapping removed conservative Simi Valley from that district, which Mitchell said could give Democrats a slight advantage.)

Mitchell says their national modeling shows that if Democrats can flip those two seats, then they have a good chance of keeping their control of the House.

"If Democrats were to win both of those districts, and you plug those into the models, that would suggest that Democrats hold the House entirely," Mitchell explained. "That's how important that would be as a signal as to where the national mood is."

Mood of the electorate

As the election nears, Mitchell said Republicans appear to be gaining the advantage.

"Polling around the country and within the state does show that Republicans have made some gains since September," Mitchell said. "In September, Democrats reached a high watermark when the anger over the Roe vs. Wade decision... the increased amount of news around former President Trump, about him potentially announcing a run for re-election in 2024, around the Mar-a-Lago incident, around the Jan. 6 hearings. All of that stuff was motivating Democrats."

But, he continued, "something has happened in the last several weeks where that conversation has shifted back" and many voters are now paying more attention to issues around inflation and crime.

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Mitchell said that while that is helping Republicans nationally, in California, there are still some things working towards the advantage of Democrats. Most notably, he said: Proposition 1, which would enshrine abortion rights into the California constitution.

According to Mitchell, having that measure on the ballot may help drive up Democratic voter turnout. He said his polling shows 45% of Democrats are saying the issue of abortion is why they are turning out to vote.

"So, the issue is more alive in the conversation around the election here in California," he explained. "And that might end up being good for Democrats because it keeps the discussion around an issue where they definitely have an electoral advantage."

If you're on the ABC7 News app, click here to watch live