You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

'State of the Race': Dems seek GOP wipeout in California

The Hill logo The Hill 8/10/2018 Reid Wilson
a close up of a flag © Provided by The Hill

("State of the Race" is a regular feature running Fridays exclusively on MSN and at The Hill through the November election.)

IRVINE, Calif. - The shared workspace in a suburban office park just across the street from the University of California Irvine bustles with young employees walking between glass-walled conference rooms with purpose.

Some work for tech startups, like a virtual photo booth company. Others work for a gumball machine distributor.

And still others work for another new type of startup that Orange County hasn't seen in recent years: A serious and professionally run Democratic congressional campaign.

For generations, Orange County has been the bastion of Western conservatism, the foundation on which Republicans such as Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and Pete Wilson built their statewide campaigns. As recently as 2000, the Republican presidential nominee, George W. Bush, spent precious time campaigning here.

But after Hillary Clinton became the first Democrat to win Orange County since Franklin Roosevelt, Democrats now believe several congressional seats in the Los Angeles suburbs and exurbs are critical to their hopes of reclaiming the House of Representatives this November.

They just have to learn how to run a campaign here, in districts where the party has not been seriously competitive for decades - and how to overcome roadblocks Republicans have erected in the lead-up to the midterm elections.

"We've never run a top-tier, top-flight, well-funded, professional campaign to win here," said Katie Porter, a law professor running against Rep. Mimi Walters (R).

Democrats are trying to learn how to build their capacity, and fast. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee opened a satellite office at another suburban office park about 15 minutes away from Porter's headquarters, from which it coordinates field programs aimed at knocking on doors in critical districts.

As evidence that their strategy is working, Democrats point to markedly higher turnout in June's primary election, when thousands more people than usual voted for Democratic candidates - though many were likely driven to the polls by a competitive race for governor.

Porter is one of eight Democrats running for Republican-held seats that the party sees as particularly ripe for pickups this year.

Those districts represent the full scope of California's diversity, from the hot and dry Central Valley to the booming and crowded suburbs of Los Angeles to the pristine coastline of San Diego. Seven of the eight districts chose Clinton over Trump in 2016; the eighth, held by Rep. Devin Nunes (R), favored Trump by a 10-point margin.

The districts are seemingly tailor-made for Democrats in the era of Trump: The Orange County-area districts are disproportionately well-educated, as voters with college degrees voice opposition to the president. Districts in the Central Valley and in eastern Los Angeles County are highly diverse, as Trump alienates Hispanic and Asian American voters.

And, as a housing crisis grips California and home prices skyrocket, the very districts where Democrats are focusing their efforts are about to be hard-hit by a Republican tax reform plan that limits a mortgage interest deduction credit for high-value homes.

"When it comes to taxes, she votes for a tax plan, the only Orange County Republican to vote for a tax plan that singles out Californians and that's going to deepen our housing affordability crisis," Porter said of Walters.

Walters's campaign did not respond to an interview request.

Republicans hope a different kind of tax plan gets voters' attention here. They hope to win over voters with an initiative that has qualified for the November ballot that would repeal a gas tax increase passed last year by the Democratic-controlled state legislature. The tax would raise billions of dollars in revenue to pay for infrastructure projects.

Walters and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) spearheaded the signature-gathering efforts to qualify the measure for November's ballot, in hopes of driving more Republican turnout.

"I think what people are concerned about is, when they go and fill up their tank of gas, the increase in gas prices," said Young Kim, a Republican running in a nearby district to replace her old boss, retiring Rep. Ed Royce (R). "I think the momentum is there for people to realize that if you make a bad decision, you're going to have a consequence."

The gas tax increase may be a particularly salient issue in districts in the Los Angeles area, where driving along crowded interstates and highways is an unavoidable part of life. The average resident of every Orange County and Los Angeles-area district spends a longer time commuting than the national average, according to the Census Bureau.

Some Democrats are worried that Republicans may be able to paint them as an ultra-liberal, and unacceptable, alternative to the party in power. The same day Porter, Walters and Kim advanced to November's midterm elections, voters recalled state Sen. Josh Newman (D), in a district that includes parts of Orange, Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties, after Newman voted in favor of the gas tax hike.

"The results in the Josh Newman recall were not great," California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon said in an interview. "There's some places where we will have to talk about the gas tax."

Democrats running for seats in Congress do not want to be the ones who have that conversation with voters.

"I think what really bothers families here is a sense that the federal government isn't doing its part, that our state government is being left to try to figure more and more and more things out," Porter said when asked whether she supports repealing the gas tax.

Asked again, she said: "I'm probably going to keep dodging that."

None of the Democrats running in Republican-targeted seats said they supported the gas tax repeal. Several did not respond to emails seeking comment.

A spokeswoman for one who did, Nunes opponent Andrew Janz, said he does not support the gas tax.

"The gas tax is particularly bad for Valley families," Janz's spokeswoman Heather Greven said. "Andrew believes we can get a better deal."

Last week's 'State of the Race': All eyes on nail-biter in Ohio

AdChoices
AdChoices

More From The Hill

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon