An Upset Win in California for Garcia

By Jim Ellis

California Republican Mike Garcia

May 14, 2020 — Despite thousands of ballots still to be received and tabulated, California Democratic Assemblywoman Christy Smith (D-Newhall) conceded the 25th Congressional District special election race to Republican Mike Garcia late yesterday, making this the first time in decades that the GOP has converted a Democratic seat in the deep blue state.

According to the California Secretary of State, the semi-official preliminary totals showed Garcia, a retired Navy fighter pilot, taking 56 percent of the vote from the 143,335 tabulated ballots. Though votes will be flowing into the election center through Friday evening, it became obvious to Smith that there would not be enough late ballots to overcome Garcia’s substantial 17,339-vote advantage.

Though the California registration figures show 420,928 individuals on the voter rolls in this congressional district, meaning a current turnout of 34.1 percent with many more ballots coming, the progression did not appear to yield the huge participation factor Smith needs to turnaround the final election result.

In the March 3 state primary, 156,550 CA-25 voters participated in the regular election, a total not far from the preliminary tabulation we saw in Tuesday’s special general, remembering that the 3/3 vote, at the time, featured a competitive Democratic presidential nomination event. Of the total, 81,994 voted in the Democratic presidential primary in a CD that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) carried over former vice president Joe Biden, 35.6 – 33.6 percent.

On the Republican side, in their non-competitive race, 64,138 individuals voted in the presidential primary with incumbent Donald Trump taking 92.3 percent of the cast ballots.

Other past races find that this special election turnout could still grow substantially. In the 2018 midterm general election that elected Rep. Katie Hill (D), who would become embroiled in a sex scandal that forced her to resign a year later, 245,022 people participated. In the 2016 presidential election year, 261,161 voters cast their ballots in the congressional race.

Therefore, these latter turnout figures imply the participation rate could still grow, but even the larger historical numbers suggest that CA-25 is a mid-level turnout district in relation to the other California congressional districts. In the presidential election year, the district ranked 24th of the state’s 53 CDs in voter participation. In 2018, with their turnout figure approaching presidential election level voting, CD 25 reached 22nd position within the California district universe.

All of this gives us further evidence that there would not be enough after-votes to change Tuesday’s original result. For example, even if 60,000 more votes are received, and it is doubtful there will be that many, Ms. Smith would need to record over 64.5 percent of the after-vote just to win by one vote. And, with Garcia’s percentages in the district’s two counties almost identical (55.5 percent in Los Angeles County; 57.7% in Ventura County), suggesting he enjoys widespread support, Smith’s task became all the more difficult.

Additionally, late vote totals under 60,000 would mean Smith would require an even larger share to win by one vote.

The Garcia win is big for the national Republican Party at a time when it needed to score a victory. Winning a seat in California, where President Trump is extremely unpopular (in CA-25, Hillary Clinton’s winning margin was 50-44 percent, after Republicans at the congressional level had carried the seat consecutively from 1992 until 2018) is a boost for them nationally and should help with fundraising and candidate enthusiasm.

The victory means the national Republican net conversion number drops to 19 seats in order to regain the House majority. Both Rep-Elect Garcia and Smith will now advance to the November general election by virtue of their finish in the regular primary election, held concurrently with the March 3 special election.

With this race concluding along with the special election in Wisconsin that state Senator Tom Tiffany (R-Minocqua) won on Tuesday, three US House vacancies remain, two of which will likely stay without representation for the remainder of the current Congress. New York’s 27th CD will be filled in a special general election on June 23.

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