Southern California’s role in who controls Congress in 2018 continues to come into sharper focus, with many national election experts taking notice of previously safe districts that are trending more toward Democratic control in November.
In their most recent House ratings, Inside Elections adjusted its ratings in two Southern California districts in favor of Democrats: the 25th Congressional District, represented by Republican Steve Knight of Palmdale; and the 48th Congressional District, represented by Republican Mimi Walters of Irvine. State and national observers regularly identify both lawmakers as in danger of losing their seats in 2018.
For Knight’s district, Inside Elections changed its rating from “Lean Republican” to “Tilt Republican,” indicating that Democrats have a better chance of ousting him in November. Knight has seen a string of bad polls and turned in a weak fundraising effort at the end of 2017.
Knight was listed as California’s most vulnerable lawmaker by an L.A. Times analysis. His affinity for the Trump agenda, especially around health care and taxes, is extremely unpopular in his district. Both the influential Cook Political Report and CNN list Knight’s race as a toss-up, bad news for an embattled lawmaker running in a suburban district that overwhelmingly supported Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Inside Elections moved Mimi Walters’ district from “Likely Republican” to “Lean Republican.” Walters is one of several Republicans from Orange County, an area containing “Republicans who have concerns with environmental issues; women’s issues,” said Mike Madrid, a political consultant who works mostly with Republicans.
Walters, like Knight, has aligned herself closely to Donald Trump and his agenda, taking positions on environmental and women’s issues likely at odds with her voters.
Walters supported changes to the Affordable Care Act that will result in millions of Americans losing health insurance and push premiums in California to increase by up to 30 percent next year. Women, meanwhile, are especially focused on “accessing adequate health services and being able to afford care,” according to a recent Republican poll.
On the environment, Walters encouraged the Trump administration plan for more offshore oil drilling, raking in more than $175,000 from the oil and gas lobby along the way.
Both Cook Political Report and CNN also list Walters’ district as “Lean Republican,” more evidence that the decision of Democrats to target her seat in 2018 may pay dividends.
The move by Inside Elections in both races gives more credence to the idea that a blue wave is coming in 2018. FiveThirtyEight looked at special elections during 2017 and found Democrats outperforming the expected partisan lean in most of the elections, and by a significant margin. “The point is that Democrats are doing better in all types of districts with all types of candidates. You don’t see this type of consistent outperformance unless there’s an overriding pro-Democratic national factor,” says FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten.
Despite these factors, suburban Southern California Republicans like Knight and Walters continue to align themselves with Trump, a political strategy that may backfire.
“Trump is toxic in the suburbs and he’s probably less popular now than two years ago,” Jack Pitney, a Claremont McKenna University political scientist and former GOP congressional aide, told the Orange County Register.
If there really is an “overriding pro-Democratic” wave building across the country, Southern California might be on the forefront of changing the power structure in Washington, D.C., come November.