Oct. 29, 2019 — A pair of new open seats, both from the Democratic side of aisle, emerged over the weekend.
First, in a move that had been speculated upon, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Kailua) announced that she will not seek a fifth term in the House in order to concentrate on her presidential campaign.
Second, freshman California Rep. Katie Hill (D-Agua Dulce/Palmdale), who has been under fire and facing a potential ethics investigation for alleged sexual affairs with members of her congressional staff and campaign team will reportedly resign from Congress at the end of this week. Additionally, her estranged husband is saying she used her past influence to acquire employment contracts for him with the non-profit organization she ran before her election.
Rep. Gabbard, at this point one of the minor presidential candidates, made her mark in the debates for which she qualified to participate. Unless her poll standing improves, she will not be part of the upcoming November and December forums since the Democratic National Committee just announced new polling requirements.
The additional debate conditions mandate that candidates obtain four percent support nationally in a minimum of four designated surveys or attain six percent in two sanctioned polls from the early states, meaning those voting in February: Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina.
Recently, local polling suggests that Congresswoman Gabbard’s constituents do not look favorably upon her running for president. Just over 60 percent of the respondents said they preferred she exit the national race. Gabbard was also facing serious congressional primary competition from state Sen. Kai Kahele (D-Hilo).
Polling projected her with a definitive lead, 48-26 percent, according to a late September Public Policy Polling survey of the HI-2 constituency but falling below 50 percent is a clear indication of impending weakness. The study also reported that 38 percent of Democrats would have voted to re-elect Rep. Gabbard, but 50 percent indicated they would support someone new.
Sen. Kahele says he will continue in what is now a new open seat campaign to be decided in the Democratic primary. He had raised over $500,000 for his challenge to Rep. Gabbard and has just under $371,000 remaining in his campaign account at the Sept. 30 reporting deadline.
The Hawaii candidate filing deadline isn’t until June 2 for the Aug. 8 state primary. At this point no other Democratic candidate is coming forward, but we can expect a crowded field once potential contenders have an opportunity to assess their own political options. The 2nd District contains part of Oahu and the remainder of the state’s island chain.
Rep. Hill’s district political situation is much different. The northern Los Angeles County seat was reliably Republican when originally drawn before the 1992 election. That was the year when former Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Palmdale) was originally elected, and he would win 10 more elections in the 25th CD. After he retired, state legislator Steve Knight (R) won the seat and held it for two terms until Hill unseated him in November.
The district began turning, however, as far back as 2008 when then-Sen. Barack Obama nipped John McCain here by one percentage point. The 25th turned back to the Republicans four years later when Mitt Romney topped President Obama, 50-38 percent, but then flipped once more in 2020 when Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump, 50-44 percent.
While the district that mostly lies in LA County with a sliver of Ventura County has a Republican history, the most recent trends suggest an impending special election will at least begin as a lean Democrat seat. The special election winner will serve the balance of the current term, and it’s likely that March 3, which would allow the governor to schedule the election concurrently with the state primary, will either become the special primary or more likely the general election date.
The total House open seat count now grows to 29, with four vacant once Rep. Hill leaves office. Republicans still must protect the preponderance of the incumbent-less districts, 20 of 29, but only eight including CA-25, can be considered highly competitive. At this point, it appears that 14 of the open seats are safe or likely Republican, with seven of the nine Democratic openings being considered a lock for the eventual Democratic nominee.