As we prepare for the 2020 elections, Yesh Ginsburg and Steen Kirby will give a general overview of all 435 United States House of Representatives races. This is a basic overview to introduce you to the major candidates. All Partisan Lean numbers are taken from the Cook Partisan Voting Index. We will update this page as the races progress if anything noteworthy arises.

Three of California’s eight Republicans were found in the first nine districts, and three more are found in this group of nine–including two of the more prominent House Republicans. Are either of them likely to lose? What are their challengers running on? Let’s look at the candidates.

California is the most populous state in the nation, with its whopping 53 Congressional Districts. 45 of those currently sit in the hands of Democrats. Of the nine we’ll be looking at in this article, every single one is held by a Democrat. What will the Representatives be like from these districts? Let’s introduce them.

Remember, California runs on a “jungle primary” system. On March 3rd, every candidate interested in running for Congress appeared on the ballot. The top two in each race advanced to the November general election, so there are no write-ins and no third candidates. In some districts, the top two primary candidates are from the same party.

Because of California’s size, we are not putting every candidate in one article. In fact, it takes us six articles to get through all of them. This article looks over Districts 19-27, but we also have gone over all the other districts, linked below.
Districts 1-9
Districts 10-18
Districts 28-36
Districts 37-45
Districts 46-53

California’s 19th Congressional District

Incumbent: Zoe Lofgren (Democrat, fourth term)

Partisan Lean: D+24

2018 Results:

Candidate Votes %
Zoe Lofgren (D) 162,496 74.21
Justin Aguilera (R) 57,823 25.79

2016 Results:

Candidate Votes %
Zoe Lofgren (D) 181,802 73.65
G. Burt Lancaster (R) 64,061 26.35

Republican Candidate:

Justin Aguilera (campaign website)

Aguilera easily lost this race two years ago, and he hasn’t done much to try to change that this time. He has a bare-bones platform full of platitudes, and doesn’t seem to be actively campaigning at all on social media and online.

Democratic Candidate:

Zoe Logfren (campaign website)

Logfren is a safe Democrat, who is running on immigration, gun issues, and overturning the Supreme Court Citizens United decision.

California’s 20th Congressional District

Incumbent: Jimmy Panetta (Democrat, second term)

Partisan Lean: D+23

2018 Results:

Candidate Votes %
Jimmy Panetta (D) 183,677 81.37
Ronald Kabat (No party) 42,044 18.63

2016 Results:

Candidate Votes %
Jimmy Panetta (D) 180,980 70.75
Casey Lucius (R) 74,811 29.25

Republican Candidate:

Jeff Gorman (campaign website)

Gorman actually spent a bit of money, but he’s mostly running a bare bones campaign against the standard Democratic Party party line. Looking at this district and all of Panetta’s advantages, there’s probably not much more he could do anyway.

Democratic Candidate:

Jimmy Panetta (campaign website)

Panetta, whose father was Secretary of Defense under President Obama, is a relatively liberal Democrat who takes strong positions on healthcare, gender-based rights, and infrastructure, among other issues.

California’s 21st Congressional District

Incumbent: TJ Cox (Democrat, first term)

Partisan Lean: D+5

2018 Results:

Candidate Votes %
TJ Cox (D) 57,239 50.38
David Valadao (R) 56,377 49.62

2016 Results:

Candidate Votes %
David Valadao (R) 75,126 56.74
Emilio Huerta (D) 57,282 43.26

Republican Candidate:

David Valadao (campaign website)

Valadao held this Democratic-leaning seat for three terms before being upset by Cox last year. Valadao is campaigning on a relatively moderate conservative platform, talking more about cutting red tape and broadly discussing fixing issues with healthcare, immigration, and more.

Democratic Candidate:

TJ Cox (campaign website)

Cox’s path to this seat is a fascinating one. He was running for the 10th District seat, but switched to the 21st a week before the primary since Emilio Huerta withdrew. (Democrats did successfully flip both seats.) Cox is a moderate Democrat who takes a hard-line anti-Trump position on immigration, which took him to a tiny victory in 2018. Both candidates and parties are pouring money into this race, and it should be a tight one again in 2020.

Steen’s Notes: Valadao would like his chances, if Trump wasn’t on the ballot. This is another seat that may flip back under a Biden presidency, but Cox would still feel like he’s in decent shape at present.

California’s 22nd Congressional District

Incumbent: Devin Nunes (Republican, ninth term)

Partisan Lean: R+8

2018 Results:

Candidate Votes %
Devin Nunes (R) 117,243 52.72
Andrew Janz (D) 105,136 47.28

2016 Results:

Candidate Votes %
Devin Nunes (R) 158,755 67.57
Louie Campos (D) 76,211 32.43

Republican Candidate:

Devin Nunes (campaign website)

We arrive at Devin Nunes. Nunes is often thought of as a hard-line conservative, but his voting record indicates that he is a bit more moderate, politically. What creates that impression is that he is the House’s biggest defender of President Trump. The “Nunes Memo” was the source of most of Republicans’ concerns regarding the investigation into the Trump campaign, and is the basis of what President Trump sometimes refers to as “Obamagate.”

Democratic Candidate:

Phil Arballo (campaign website)

Nunes’ support for President Trump made the 2018 campaign far closer than any of Nunes’ other races. The candidate to try to take advantage of that this year is Phil Arballo. Arballo is not campaigning on detailed plans and proposals. He has broad outlines for the Democratic positions that he supports, but the race is mostly a referendum on Trump and Nunes. Arballo and the Democrats see a real chance at a flip here, and are putting a lot of money into this race. Nunes has a huge war chest at his disposal, though (over $10 million cash on hand right now), and expect him to use it if he’s worried this race is too close.

Steen’s Notes: This race was relatively contested in 2018 but didn’t end up close. Democrats offer a weaker candidate this time around, and Nunes is safe to continue his climb up the GOP leadership ranks.

California’s 23rd Congressional District

Incumbent: Kevin McCarthy (Republican, seventh term)

Partisan Lean: R+14

2018 Results:

Candidate Votes %
Kevin McCarthy (R) 131,113 63.72
Tatiana Matta (D) 74,661 36.28

2016 Results:

Candidate Votes %
Kevin McCarthy (R) 167,116 69.18
Wendy Reed (D) 74,468 30.82

Republican Candidate:

Kevin McCarthy (campaign website)

McCarthy is the top Republican in the House. And while it may surprise you due to his support for President Trump, the top issue on his campaign site is “executive overreach.” He is, as House Minority Leader, actually a pretty moderate Republican policy-wise, though certainly has not been moderate rhetoric-wise.

Democratic Candidate:

Kim Mangone (campaign website)

Mangone is a moderate Democrat taking more or less the standard line of attack against Republicans (e.g. statements like “I want to serve everyone, not just the rich”). She is actually running a campaign and has fundraised well, though she is dwarfed by McCarthy’s budget. Still, the Democrats aren’t giving up a shot at this seat without at least a bit of a fight.

California’s 24th Congressional District

Incumbent: Salud Carbajal (Democrat, second term)

Partisan Lean: D+7

2018 Results:

Candidate Votes %
Salud Carbajal (D) 166,550 58.56
Justin Fareed (R) 117,881 41.44

2016 Results:

Candidate Votes %
Salud Carbajal (D) 166,034 53.42
Justin Fareed (R) 144,780 46.58

Republican Candidate:

Andy Caldwell (campaign website)

Caldwell is raising money and trying to put up a fight in this district, which hasn’t been won by a Republican since 1994. The district is clearly moving a bit away from the party, but is still possibly within reach with the right campaign. Caldwell’s campaign might be just that, though he’s throwing Republicans under the bus to do it. He claims that neither party is working for the people right now, and he wants to fix it. He takes a hard stance on the national debt, but is otherwise running a pretty moderate conservative campaign, including topics like homelessness and infrastructure.

Democratic Candidate:

Salud Carbajal (campaign website)

Carbajal is pretty moderate on most of his issues, though he takes hard-line liberal stances on abortion, and backed a federal $15 minimum wage. He has the definite financial advantage in this race, though has not yet spent like he needs it. And, considering he got over 50% of the vote in the jungle primary, he’s probably correct.

California’s 25th Congressional District

Incumbent: Mike Garcia (Republican, took office in May 2020)

Partisan Lean: Even

2018 Results:

Candidate Votes %
Katie Hill (D) 133,209 54.37
Steve Knight (R) 111,813 45.63

2016 Results:

Candidate Votes %
Steve Knight (R) 138,755 53.13
Bryan Caforio (D) 122,406 46.87

Republican Candidate:

Mike Garcia (campaign website)

After Katie Hill’s resignation for (well, we’ll let you read the details and decide what happened for yourself), California held a Special Election and a primary in the same day. Garcia won the Special Election and currently holds the seat. He is a hard-liner on Socialism and the national debt, and his campaign values include “Constitution, capitalism, competition, and charity.”

Democratic Candidate:

Christy Smith (campaign website)

Christy Smith is campaigning on lowering local taxes and healthcare costs, while also adding funding for education. She is making getting “dark money” out of politics a priority. She is not nearly as progressive as Hill is, but she is a solid liberal Democrat who should be able to be competitive in a swing district.

Yesh’s notes: There is a lot to say about this campaign, and a lot of reasons for Democrats to be optimistic about her chances. However, it does not bode well that she lost a Special Election by nearly ten points when it was on the same ballot as a competitive Democratic primary, but not a Republican one.

Steen’s notes: Smith is not a great candidate but she’s retooled her campaign and Garcia will certainly be leading Trump here and need to get some crossover vote. If he hangs on, it will be another impressive victory for a rising star in the GOP.

California’s 26th Congressional District

Incumbent: Julia Brownley (Democrat, fourth term)

Partisan Lean: D+7

2018 Results:

Candidate Votes %
Julia Brownley (D) 110,804 60.15
Antonio Sabbato Jr. (R) 73,416 39.85

2016 Results:

Candidate Votes %
Julia Brownley (D) 169,248 60.38
Rafael Dagnesses (R) 111,059 39.62

Republican Candidate:

Ronda Baldwin-Kennedy (campaign website)

Kennedy, the dean of a for-profit law school in California, is running a unique campaign. She calls herself a “Constitutionalist,” and one of her main campaign efforts is to change the Federal Housing Administration loan program, which she claims unfairly penalizes minorities who have low credit scores through no fault of their own. She is also campaigning to lower taxes, cut job-hurting regulation, and fight the opioid crisis.

Yesh’s notes: I have pointed this out elsewhere, and will continue to, but Kennedy is one of a number of fascinating women who clearly see a different future and direction for the Republican Party. Far too many of them, though, are running in races they just cannot win. Kennedy should be able to easily win several seats across the country. Instead, she’s facing an incumbent that has pulled over 60% in her last two elections (though Brownley was vulnerable in 2012 and 2014).

Democratic Candidate:

Julia Brownley (campaign website)

Brownley is a moderate Democrat who will vote with Republicans more often than her average party-mates do. She is campaigning a little more vigorously than you would expect for a race rated this safe, though perhaps the caliber of her opponent is weighing on her a bit.

California’s 27th Congressional District

Incumbent: Judy Chu (Democrat, sixth term)

Partisan Lean: D+17

2018 Results:

Candidate Votes %
Judy Chu (D) 160,504 79.21
Bryan Witt (D) 42,132 20.79

2016 Results:

Candidate Votes %
Judy Chu (D) 168,977 67.42
Jack Orswell (R) 81,655 32.58

Republican Candidate:

Johnny Nalbandian (campaign website)

Nalbandian failed at unseating Adam Schiff in 2018, so he decided on another impossible-to-win race this year. He is a hard-line small government conservative who considers liberal Democratic policies Constitutional violations. His “community issues” platform is far more straightforward and reasonable, but it’s very clear that the basis for that is a hard-line one.

Democratic Candidate:

Judy Chu (campaign website)

Chu is a solid party-line Democrat. Her district knows her, and they like her, and she doesn’t have serious competition this cycle.

Overview

This collection of districts has by far the most potential tight-races of any group in California. Most of these will be the ones to keep an eye on as the votes come in in the days after November 3rd.

Interested in the rest of our primers for other House races? We have them all listed on our primer home page.

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