California primaries put Republicans on notice in key races

Katie Hill will face Congressman Steve Knight in November

After the primary, Democrats are on pace to field strong candidates in every competitive district, boosting their chances of re-taking control of the House of Representatives in November.

The nation’s eyes turned to California last night to see if Democratic enthusiasm could ensure one of their candidates finished in at least second place in the top-two primary system. While not all the votes have been counted, “Democrats [are] poised to slide into second place for all 14 GOP-held districts in California,” according to the L.A. Times.

Nationally, Democrats need to gain at least 23 seats to re-take control of the House of Representatives. And in California, Republicans control seats in seven districts where Hillary Clinton won in 2016, meaning the Democratic Party is counting on California to catapult the party back into power.

In California’s top-two primary system, the two people who receive the most votes, regardless of party, move forward to the general election on November 6. One of the biggest questions going into Tuesday’s primaries was whether Democrats could avoid disaster in three particular California House districts: the 39th, 48th, and 49th.

All three of these GOP-held seats are in the former conservative stronghold of Orange County, which voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016.

But as of Wednesday morning, it looks like Democrats managed to not only fend off disaster, but advance candidates who stand a real chance of flipping Orange County — and possibly the entire House.

The first contested race was for California’s 39th District, which is open thanks to Republican Rep. Ed Royce’s decision to retire.

Democrats backed Gil Cisneros, a Navy veteran who won the lottery and used his winnings to fund education charity initiatives. His likely opponent will be former Republican Assemblywoman Young Kim.

The second key race was California’s 48th District, represented by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, widely known as “Putin’s favorite congressman” for his unusually close ties to Russia.

Democrats were particularly worried about being shut out of this race because of the entry of Republican challenger to Rohrabacher, former Orange County Republican chair Scott Baugh.

However, as of this writing, Baugh is in fourth place, with a virtual tie for second between two Democratic candidates: pioneering stem-cell researcher Dr. Hans Keirstead, and entrepreneur and philanthropist Harley Rouda.

Then there is California’s 49th District, vacated by retiring Republican Congressman Darrell Issa, who won re-election in 2016 by just one point. The district also backed Clinton by 7 points, making it a huge target this fall.

Per the New York Times, Democrat Mike Levin, an environmental attorney, is on track to advance to the general election. He will face off against Republican Diane Harkey, a member of the California State Board of Equalization and Issa’s own preferred successor.

In other closely watched races, Democrat Katie Hill looks to be on track to take on California’s most vulnerable Republicans, Congressman Steve Knight (Palmdale) in California’s 25th District. Hill, who made waves with a campaign ad that saw her scaling the side of a cliff, has outraised Knight in two consecutive fundraising quarters.

Knight’s allegiance to Trump, and his votes for the Republican tax bill and efforts to dismantle health care policies, helped land him atop numerous lists of vulnerable Republicans.

In the other district in Orange County, California’s 45th District, Democrat Katie Porter appears to have won the opportunity to take on embattled Congresswoman Mimi Walters. Porter is endorsed by California’s junior U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, while Walters is endorsed by the NRA.

Walters has faced questions about her ties to the NRA and her extremely conservative voting record, which may be out of touch with an increasingly moderate district.

Democrats are pleased with the primary results so far. “As we await final results in multiple districts, is clear that Democrats are in a stronger position than ever to take back the House, and winning districts in California will be central to that path,” says DCCC Spokesman Tyler Law.

Democrats overcame a major hurdle in clearing California’s top-two system — and put Republicans on notice.

Dan Desai Martin contributed to this article.