New districts, new ratings point to California battles ahead

Nine of 52 districts likely to see competitive races under new map

New district lines mean Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif., faces a significant challenge running for reelection this year.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
New district lines mean Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif., faces a significant challenge running for reelection this year. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted January 4, 2022 at 6:00am

ANALYSIS — For Republicans, the road to the House majority includes a slog through California. 

The GOP needs a net gain of just five seats to win control, and the party has midterm history and the current political environment on its side. In short, Republicans are on the offensive in most places around the country, except for the Golden State. 

Under the new congressional map produced by California’s independent redistricting commission, nine of the state’s 52 districts are expected to host competitive races this year. And six of those nine are likely to feature a Republican incumbent, compared to just three vulnerable districts held by Democrats.

[More House race ratings | Initial Senate race ratings]

While Democrats are going to lose one seat in the Los Angeles area due to reapportionment, Republicans could lose a few seats in other parts of the state this November, which means they’ll need to make up for those losses elsewhere around the country. 

Jacob Rubashkin of Inside Elections wrote an initial analysis of all 52 new districts, and all population comparisons with existing districts are courtesy of California Target Book. The 2022 races initially rated as competitive by Inside Elections are broken down below. 

3rd District (Tom McClintock, R)

Redistricting has complicated Republican Tom McClintock’s reelection prospects. He currently represents 57 percent of the newly drawn 3rd District, according to California Target Book. But GOP state Assemblyman Kevin Kiley is running and trying to push the congressman to run in the new 5th District. McClintock represents part of that district as well but would likely have to face the winner of the special election to replace GOP Rep. Devin Nunes, who formally stepped down Monday. On the Democratic side, physician and Iraq War veteran Kermit Jones is running. Despite the GOP uncertainty, President Donald Trump would have carried this seat 50 percent to 48 percent in 2020, and Republicans shouldn’t have too much trouble holding it in the current political environment. Initial rating: Likely Republican.

13th District (Josh Harder, D)

Democrat Josh Harder currently represents just a third of this new, Northern California district. But Democratic Rep. Jim Costa’s decision to run in the new 21st District makes this race less complicated. Joe Biden would have carried the new 13th by 11 points, 54 percent to 43 percent, which gives Harder more breathing room than he’s had in his current district. But considering Democrats’ struggles in the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial contests last fall, the party can’t take this race for granted. Ricky Gill, a former National Security Council staffer under Trump who unsuccessfully challenged Democratic Rep. Jerry McNerney in 2012, could run for the Republicans. Initial rating: Likely Democratic.

22nd District (David Valadao, R)

Republican David Valadao avenged his 2018 reelection loss by knocking off the Democratic incumbent in a 2020 rematch. Valadao is used to representing Democratic-leaning territory, but the independent redistricting commission handed him a big challenge with his redrawn seat. Biden would have carried the new 22nd District by 13 points, 55 percent to 42 percent. In 2020, no member of Congress was elected to a district that voted so heavily for the other party’s presidential nominee. Valadao overcame an 11-point winning margin for Biden in his current district but prevailed by just 1,522 votes. This cycle, Democrats have several candidates trying to take advantage of the opportunity, including state Assemblyman Rudy Salas and Delano Mayor Bryan Osorio. Valadao also faces anger from the right over his vote to impeach Trump after the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection. Initial rating: Toss-up.

27th District (Mike Garcia, R)

Republican Mike Garcia won a first full term by just 335 votes in 2020 and is now facing reelection in a more difficult district. The political environment could be more favorable to the GOP, but Biden would have carried the new 27th by 12 points, putting Garcia on the edge of the over-performance typically necessary to win. Garcia could face former Democratic state Assemblywoman Christy Smith for a third time. (In 2020, he defeated her in a May special election and the November general election.) But Democrat Quaye Quartey, a retired Navy intelligence officer, is running as well. Initial rating: Toss-up.

40th District (Young Kim, R)

Democrat Katie Porter represents a majority of this newly drawn district, but she is running for reelection in a neighboring, more Democratic seat. Biden would have carried this Orange County district narrowly, 50 percent to 48 percent, making it more hospitable for GOP Rep. Young Kim, even though she currently represents about 20 percent of it. Democrats are looking for a top challenger. The seat could become problematic for Kim over the course of the decade, but in this pro-GOP political environment, she has the advantage. Initial rating: Likely Republican.

41st District (Ken Calvert, R)

Republican Ken Calvert has been in Congress since the beginning of the Clinton administration, and he’s about to face one of his most difficult reelection races. The congressman won a 15th term in 2020 from an Inland Empire district that Trump won by 7 points. But he’s now in a district Trump would have won by a single point, in part due to the addition of Palm Springs. Democrats will still need a top candidate, particularly in this political environment. Teacher and pastor Brandon Mosely, former federal prosecutor Will Rollins and engineer Shrina Kurani are running. Initial rating: Likely Republican.

45th District (Michelle Steel, R)

Most of the territory currently represented by Republican Michelle Steel is in the new and more Democratic 47th District. Steel is running in the redrawn 45th District, in inland Orange County, which includes Fountain Valley, Garden Grove, Cypress and Fullerton. The district will still be a challenge for her — it would have voted for Biden by 6 points in 2020 compared with her current seat, which Biden carried by 1.5 points while she was unseating Democratic Rep. Harley Rouda. The district’s voting-age Asian population is nearly double that of Steel’s existing seat (41 percent versus 23 percent), according to Rubashkin, which could give the Korean American congresswoman a boost.

Democratic Navy veteran Jay Chen, who previously ran for Congress in 2012 and 2018, is running (after beginning his campaign against Kim before the new lines were finalized). Rouda just announced he’s suspending his campaign. Given the presidential lean and Democrats’ credible candidate, this seat could host one of the most competitive races in the country. Initial rating: Toss-up.

47th District (Katie Porter, D)

Porter only represents about a third of the new 47th District. But she lives here and is seeking a third term from this new coastal Orange County district, which covers Seal Beach, Huntington Beach and Newport Beach, as well as area just inland, including Costa Mesa and Irvine. Rouda could have run here, given that he represented most of this district during his single term in Congress, but he decided against it.

The new 47th would have voted for Biden by 11 points, 54 percent to 43 percent, so Porter will start with the advantage. But the 2021 gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey showed that this type of district could be within reach for the GOP under the right conditions. Republicans will likely have a credible challenger in former state Assembly Minority Leader Scott Baugh. He was less than 2 points away from finishing second in a crowded 2018 open primary for the 48th District, which would have pitted him against GOP Rep. Dana Rohrabacher and shut Democrats out of the general election. Republican Amy Phan West, who unsuccessfully challenged Democratic Rep. Alan Lowenthal in part of the new district in 2020, is running as well. Initial rating: Likely Democratic

49th District (Mike Levin, D)

This coastal Southern California district can be a good measurement of the size of a Republican wave. Biden would have won the newly drawn seat by 11 points, 54 percent to 43 percent, so Democratic Rep. Mike Levin will start with a significant advantage. But Republicans will certainly contest it. Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett has just announced, while former San Juan Capistrano Councilmember Brian Maryott, who lost to Levin by 6 points in 2020, and Oceanside City Councilmember Christopher Rodriguez were already in the race. Initial rating: Likely Democratic.

Races rated Solid Republican (5)

Races rated Solid Democratic (38)

Nathan L. Gonzales is an elections analyst with CQ Roll Call.