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House Democratic super PAC putting $35 million into California

Republicans hold five seats that backed Biden in 2020

Rep. Mike Garcia is one of several Republicans from California whose seats will be targeted by a $35 million effort launched by a Democratic super PAC.
Rep. Mike Garcia is one of several Republicans from California whose seats will be targeted by a $35 million effort launched by a Democratic super PAC. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Democrats are preparing to spend millions to win congressional races in California, a state they view as essential to regaining control of the House.

House Majority PAC, a super PAC aligned with the party’s House leadership, said Tuesday it will pour $35 million into California in the run-up to the 2024 election. The group will focus on five Republican-held districts that would have been won by President Joe Biden in 2020, had the current district maps been in place.

“A Democratic resurgence in California represents one of House Democrats’ best paths back to the majority,” the group said in an email announcing its plan. “The math is clear.”

Democrats plan to spend the money on TV ads and direct mail as well as grassroots organizing and messaging campaigns that aim to reach California’s diverse population of Black, Latino and Asian American Pacific Islander voters. 

The effort in California is similar to one underway in New York, another solidly blue state where Republican pockets of strength cost Democrats their majority in the House. Democrats can retake the chamber if they flip a net of five Republican-held seats.

Super PACs, which can raise and spend an unlimited sum, are likely to play key roles in both coastal battlefields, home to some of the nation’s most expensive media markets. House Majority PAC announced earlier this year it was pouring $45 million into an effort to unseat Republicans who won Biden-backing districts in New York.

The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC affiliated with House Republicans, has not shared its 2024 strategy. But the group’s spokeswoman, Courtney Parella, agreed that California is pivotal for her party as well.

“Republicans have won in California for back-to-back cycles thanks to high-quality candidates and toxic Democrat policies that have left voters with surging crime and skyrocketing costs,” Parella said in an email. “California is key to protecting and expanding the Republican House Majority.”

Democrats also have to defend some California seats, including the 47th District, where Rep. Katie Porter narrowly beat Republican Scott Baugh in November. Porter is running for Senate and Baugh is seeking the open seat. One of the Democratic contenders, former Rep. Harley Rouda, ended his campaign on Tuesday, saying he had suffered a traumatic brain injury in a fall last month and had to focus on his recovery.

Democrats hold 40 of the state’s 52 congressional seats. But while a red wave failed to sweep the nation during last fall’s midterms, California emerged as a bright spot for the GOP. Republicans narrowly won two close races in the Central Valley, along with two Orange County seats and one in northern Los Angeles County.

One of those races, an open seat in the mid-Central Valley, was won by Republican freshman John Duarte by 584 votes, in a district Biden would have carried by 11 points. The other four Republicans targeted by the Democratic super PAC — Reps. Michelle Steel, Young Kim, David Valadao and Mike Garcia — were all incumbents. 

They campaigned on issues that largely emphasized their personal biographies and commonsense approach to governing, not ideological fealty to the GOP, said Isaac Hale, a political scientist at Occidental College in Los Angeles.

“Candidate quality still does matter,’’ Hale said. He cites Valadao, a dairy farmer from Hanford, Calif., “who has really tried to emphasize the issues that are important to his district and he’s also tried to separate his personal brand from the Republican Party … and that’s really important because he hails from a district that’s much more Democratic than it is Republican.”

Valadao was one of the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach President Donald Trump in 2021 after the attack on the Capitol.

Democrats are optimistic about 2024 because turnout tends to climb during a presidential year. Democrat Kim Bernice Nguyen, a member of the Garden Grove City Council who is running to unseat Steel, is touting her race as “one of the best pick up opportunities for Democrats in 2024.” On her campaign website, she notes that Democrats outnumber Republicans in the Orange County district by nearly 6 percentage points. 

Democrats are also banking that a continued push by Republicans for new restrictions on abortion will hurt the party’s efforts in places such as California and New York. 

In a largely symbolic effort targeting moderate Republicans, Democrats in Congress are pushing efforts to reassert the Food and Drug Administration’s authority over abortion medication, in response to a ruling by a federal judge in Texas. 

“Any Republican who doesn’t support the Protecting Reproductive Freedom Act is confirming that they stand on the side of anti-abortion MAGA extremism over American freedoms,” Abby Curran Horrell, executive director of the House Majority PAC, said in an email. “Voters are fed up with GOP-led attacks on their health care and fundamental rights, and House Majority PAC will use their opposition to ensure they are held accountable and voted out in 2024.”

Hale, the political science professor, notes that Democrats beat expectations in 2022 “and in a slightly more favorable environment in 2024, you might expect seats like Valadao’s in the Central Valley or Michelle Steel’s seat in Orange County flip back to the Democrats.” 

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