Swing State Pres

Monday, May 11, 2020

BTRTN California's 25th District Special Election: A Close Vote in a Tough Time

Tom with a preview of tomorrow's special election, the first in the era of the coronavirus.  If new data emerges overnight to require an update, we'll be back at 5 PM tomorrow (Tuesday, May 12).

BACKGROUND

Since Trump won the presidency in 2016, virtually every race has been viewed as a referendum on his performance, from a slew of special elections, most of them held in red districts, to the midterm elections in 2018.  By and large, Democrats have fared extremely well in these elections, flipping many seats and contesting many others thought to be out of reach.

One of the most prominent of these races was the 2018 midterm flip of California’s 25th District in the U.S. House of Representatives by Katie Hill.  Hill’s 9-point win over incumbent Republican Steve Knight was one of a number of blue flips in California.  Knight had held the seat for two terms, and before that the district had been held by Republican Howard “Buck” McKeon for 22 years, since 1993, when he flipped the seat by beating Democrat incumbent Edward Roybal.  Taking over a seat that had been in GOP hands for a quarter-century was a very big deal indeed. 

It was not to last.  Hill was forced to resign on November 3, 2019, after admitting to a relationship with a campaign aide.  The seat has been vacant since.  There was an open primary on March 3 and the two top vote getters in that match, Democrat Christy Smith and Republican Mike Garcia, will face off in tomorrow’s election.  The winner will serve in the U.S. House of Representatives until November, when the seat will be up again, in a re-match.  So essentially this is a race to hold a seat for a mere five months and change.

But symbolically, of course, the race means much more than that.  All special elections are viewed as harbingers of the national mood, and this one carries special significance.  This is the first election since the coronavirus reshaped the world and the electoral landscape, and both parties will be eager to claim the win as a referendum on Trump/GOP handling of the outbreak, whichever way it goes.

As mentioned, the Democrats have done exceedingly well in special elections since Trump was elected in 2016.  There have been 17 of them, almost all of them (14) held in districts held by Republicans who were either appointed to positions in the Trump administration, or resigned (largely due to scandal).  While the Dems flipped only three of these seats, they improved their performance in them dramatically when compared to the 2016 election, on average by +17 points (excluding elections that were uncontested, on either side), turning many so-called safe seats into hotly contested elections.

State
District
Date
Prior Election Margin
Special Election Margin
Flip
Dem Increase
KAN
4
11-Apr-17
R+31
R+6

+25
MON
1
25-May-17
R+15
R+6

+9
CAL
34
6-Jun-17

n/a
GA
6
20-Jun-17
R+24
R+4

+20
SC
5
20-Jun-17
R+20
R+3

+17
UTAH
3
7-Nov-17
R+47
R+32

+15
PA
18
13-Mar-18
No Dem
To Dem
n/a
AZ
8
24-Apr-18
R+38
R+6

+32
TX
27
30-Jun-18
R+24
R+23

+1
OHIO
12
7-Aug-18
R+40
R+1

+39
MICH
13
6-Nov-18
D+61
D+78

+17
NY
25
6-Nov-18
D+12
D+16

+4
PA
7
6-Nov-18
R+19
D+6
To Dem
+25
PA
15
6-Nov-18
R+20
D+0
To Dem
+20
NC
3
10-Sep-19
R+24
No Dem

n/a
NC
9
10-Sep-19
R+16
R+2

+14
PA
12
21-May-19
R+32
R+36

-4

+17

THE MAY 12 PRIMARY

The 25th district is north of downtown Los Angeles, covering the northern part of Los Angeles County and  part of eastern Ventura County.  The largest city within its boundaries is Pasadena, and it stretches into the San Fernando Valley.  There is a healthy minority population in the district; one-third is Hispanic.

Christy Smith currently represents California 38th district in the State Assembly, which has significant overlap with the Congressional district.  Mike Garcia is a former naval officer and a pilot who worked for the defense contractor, Raytheon.  Both are considered to be credible candidates.  In the March 3 primary, Smith won 36% of the overall vote, while Garcia was second with 25%.  Knight, the 2018 loser, was also on the ballot, but he managed only 17% of the vote.  Overall, Democrats garnered 51% of the vote, while Republicans trailed at 47%.

There has been only one public poll in the race, a stale one from early March that showed Garcia up by +4 points over Smith.  This is not much to go on, in normal times.  As of March 11, the time of the poll, only 38 people in the United States had died from the coronavirus, so the landscape has changed dramatically from the time of that poll, particularly given the zig-zags of President Trump’s performance in managing the crisis.

This will be an all-mail-in vote, which, of course, adds another layer of uncertainly to the outcome.  California elections of late have had about half their ballots cast by mail, so the state and its voters are experienced in the process.  Nevertheless, the GOP is already making voter fraud charges, and decrying “ballot pick-up and drop-off” practices they claim the Smith campaign is undertaking, even while Garcia’s campaign appears to be doing the same.

There were 425,000 ballots mailed out in this election, all with postage-page return stamps, and Democrats outnumber Republicans, 39% to 32% (the rest are Independents) in receiving them.  But in the early mailing returns, it is the Republicans who are returning the ballots at higher rates.  They have returned 52,000 ballots to only 42,000 from Democrats and 24,000 Independents.  These trends do not bode well for Smith.

Even if Smith loses this election, though, she will have another chance in November, as stated, and she will be buoyed by the tendency for Democrats to come out in far greater numbers than Republicans in presidential races.  But that will not stop Trump and his supporters from leaping to claim clear validation of his leadership in the coronavirus crisis.


BTRTN PREDICTION

This is a toss-up race by any reckoning.  Given the Democratic incumbency in this seat, the margin of victory that Hill won, the rabid nature of the volunteer support that drove that victory (and many others the Dems have enjoyed since 2016), and Trump’s poor showing of late, that Smith would be favored.  However, given that there is no same-day presidential race to drive Dem participation, the mail-in factor, the inability of those volunteers to go door-to-door, the strength of the GOP candidates, the GOP leaning poll and the early voting trends favoring the Republicans, Garcia will surely make it a contest and, perhaps, pull off a flip.  It is a very tough call either way.

But largely based on those early voting trends, we call this one as follows:  our official BTRTN forecast is that Mike Garcia will emerge with a relatively narrow victory, with a 51/49 margin.   

Perhaps, if Smith does indeed lose, this will serve as a wake-up call for the Dems.  We would bet right now the Smith will return to beat Garcia in November if she falls short now.


1 comment:

  1. A district used to having a Republican in the office.

    When there was a shift, the Democrat who won served briefly, had a growing scandal, and eventually resigned. In many cases of politicians with scandals, their party's candidate in the next election is viewed with suspicion.

    Money raised and spent by the campaigns was close (up to April 22's report),
    Smith at $2,265,767; Garcia at $2,244,585.
    Outside groups supporting
    Smith spent $1,267,437; Garcia $381,274.
    Outside groups opposing
    Smith $2,102,709; Garcia $502,660;
    Net (support minus opposition)
    Smith $1,430,495; Garcia $2,123,199

    An off-cycle special election, which leads to more "regular" voters and fewer "new" voters. It won't be a surprise for the Republican to win, and it won't surprise me to read it is larger than your 51/49 split.

    The repeat in the November general election, further away from the scandal, when there will not be as much outside money, and there will be more voters out will be the bigger test.

    ReplyDelete

Leave a comment