Capitol Alert

These five California House races could determine the future of Congress

Harley Rouda: ‘If you don’t have a seat at the dinner table, then you’re on the menu

Democratic House candidate Harley Rouda discusses the influence of money in politics and in his bid to unseat Congressman Dana Rohrabacher in the upcoming midterms.
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Democratic House candidate Harley Rouda discusses the influence of money in politics and in his bid to unseat Congressman Dana Rohrabacher in the upcoming midterms.

At Cal State Fullerton, students seem more motivated than ever to go to the polls.

With President Donald Trump in the back of many of their minds, Tuesday’s election is an opportunity to elect Democrats who can be a check on the president.

“Given the intense political climate, I think a lot of people just want to have more of a say,” said Jonathan Chacon, a Latino student who plans to vote in Los Angeles. “Historically, we’ve had small voter turnout, so I think it’s Latinos and Asians will have a much larger representation at least with these upcoming elections.

Of the 26 UC Irvine and Cal State Fullerton students interviewed in The Sacramento Bee’s latest “California Nation” podcast episode, only one admitted to being unregistered and uninterested in voting.

“I don’t believe in voting for the lesser of two evils,” said Albert Dang, a philosophy student at Fullerton who has never voted. “I think politicians don’t really present themselves accurately. … Voting participates in a game I just don’t like.”

Orange County is the epicenter of some of the country’s most heated congressional fights. California Republicans are in danger of losing several seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, and young voters could be a huge factor in determining who wins in some of the most competitive races and ultimately, which party controls the House.

Many of the Republicans are embracing Trump, portraying the upcoming election as a referendum on his policies on immigration and urging supporters to turn out so the party can build upon his agenda. All of them have latched on to the effort to repeal the state’s latest gasoline tax increase, appearing at rallies with organizers of Proposition 6.

Democrats, meanwhile, are largely campaigning against Trump and talking to young voters and Latinos about health care and affordability.

These are five congressional races to watch:

Katie Hill (D) v. Rep. Steve Knight (R)

District 25 — Parts of Ventura County and the Antelope Valley in northern Los Angeles County

Money: As of Oct. 17, Hill raised $6.1 million in individual contributions, compared to just $837,000 for Knight. Hill has refused to accept money from political action committees, but outside groups are strengthening their efforts this month to get her elected. Through his Independence USA super PAC, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is spending $4.5 million on ads supporting Hill’s campaign.

Status: Despite the historic Republican advantage, credible public opinion polling from UC Berkeley and Siena College/New York Times largely shows the race as a statistical tie. Experts, including the Cook Political Report, consider the seat a toss-up.

Fun fact: Hill said her dad is a lifelong Republican who never voted for a Democrat until he supported her earlier this year in the June primary.

Analysis: Hill has her work cut out for her. The Antelope and Santa Clarita valleys have been reliably Republican, but Hillary Clinton won the district in 2016. Knight is seeking a third consecutive term.

Hill said outside groups from both political parties are seeking to influence the outcome of the election. She said her goal is to center her campaign around local issues, with health care costs and housing affordability at the top of her priority list.

While messaging to independent voters and moderate Republicans will be important for Hill, she said “the more important side is to get out the vote among people who don’t normally vote in a midterm.”

Knight’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment.

Gil Cisneros (D) v. Young Kim (R)

District 39 Northwest Orange County covering Fullerton, Yorba Linda and La Habra

Money: As of Oct. 17, Kim had received more campaign money through individual contributions than Cisneros. She got $2.1 million, compared to Cisneros’s $1.9 million.

Status: Limited credible polling shows the candidates in a dead heat. Young people, Asians and Latinos will play a major role in determining who wins.

Fun Fact: In 2010, Cisneros won a $266 million Lottery jackpot.

Analysis: Kim said the race to replace Rep. Ed Royce, will come down to the wire: “One vote. Everybody has to go out and vote. I could lose by one vote, but I could win by one vote. Every vote counts.”

Kim added that her Korean background and bid to become the first Asian-American Republican woman in the House excites the Asian voters in the area.

While Republicans may have performed well in this district in the past, Democrats now have less than one percentage point voter registration advantage, Orange County GOP Chair Fred Whitaker said there are still reasons for the party to be concerned.

“Certainly, demographics can be a challenge,” Whitaker said. “But I think if you look at Congressional District 39, the Republican Party’s meeting the challenge well. That district, in 2012, was a predominantly-Anglo district. Now, it’s 34 percent Latino, 32 percent Asian and 28 percent Anglo.”

Cisneros will need a strong showing from young voters and Latinos. He insists he has a wide spectrum of support.

“It doesn’t matter who I’m talking to,” he said. “Whether I’m talking to Latinos or I’m talking to Asians or I’m talking to Anglos, for me, it’s all the same. It’s about education… healthcare… protecting social security and Medicare.”

Katie Porter (D) v. Rep. Mimi Walters (R)

District 45 — Southern Orange County, including Irvine

Money: Porter’s campaign has raised $5.2 million, as of Oct. 17, while Walters has received just over $3 million — 39 percent of which has come from individual donors.

Status: The most recent poll, which came from the GOP-leaning Public Opinion Strategies, had Porter down by 4 percentage points — still within the margin of error. Though it has been a historic Republican stronghold, it is widely considered a toss-up, though Sabato’s Crystal Ball classifies the race as Democratic-leaning.

Fun fact: In 2016, Walters won the district by over 17 percentage points, even though Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton won the district by 5 percent.

Analysis: Walters votes in line with Trump’s position 99 percent of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight, and going into the election, she is messaging to Trump loyalists.

“If the Republicans lose the majority in the House, we will go back to the Obama-era ways: High government regulation and higher taxes,” Walters said. “We don’t want that to happen, and we’re not going to let it happen.”

Whitaker said the idea this race will competitive is “mostly made up by the media.” Regardless, it is absolutely in play for Porter. This will be a race will come down to turnout among Trump’s base, women and moderates.

Harley Rouda (D) v. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R)

District 48 — Orange County coast

Money: Outside political groups, including a super PAC affiliated with former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, are spending millions as Election Day nears. Rouda has refused to accept money from political action committees, but had raised $5.4 million as of Oct. 17. Rohrabacher had raised just $2.2 million. Rouda controlled nearly two-thirds of the available cash in the race by Oct. 17.

Status: Rohrabacher has been in office for nearly three decades and won the district in the 2016 by 17 percentage points. There has been minimal public opinion polling in this race, but what little has come out shows Rouda and Rohrabacher in a statistical tie. The most recent poll from Monmouth University has Rohrabacher up by 2 percentage points, which is well within the margin of error.

FUN FACT: Rohrabacher enjoys surfing, which became California’s official state sport earlier this year.

ANALYSIS: On the surface, it’s a calm area with beautiful beaches. But the waters are beginning to look choppy for Republicans. In California’s House District 48, two candidates are competing in one of the most expensive races in the country.

Rouda, looking to benefit from a potential blue wave, is presenting himself to voters as a pro-business moderate committed to health care. Lots of outside money is in play, which could put Rouda over the edge in a district Rohrabacher has held for nearly 30 years and won by 17 percentage points in 2016.

Rouda said the heavy spending is necessary if he has any shot at winning. “If you don’t have a seat at the dinner table, then you’re on the menu.”

Mike Levin (D) v. Diane Harkey (R)

District 49 — Stretches from northern San Diego County coast north to southern Orange County

Money: As of Oct. 17, Levin had raised $4.9 million — 91 percent of which came from individual contributions. Harkey had raised just $1.4 million.

Status: FiveThirtyEight’s congressional model gives Levin a 39-in-40 chance of winning, and recent polling from UC Berkeley and Siena College/New York Times have Harkey trailing by double digits.

Fun fact: Harkey was elected to California’s Board of Equalization in 2014. In subsequently was stripped of most of its power.

Analysis: The district formerly represented by Republican Darrel Issa is the most likely district to go for Democrats, since it is largely outside Orange County — an area that has traditionally benefited Republicans. Whitaker said Orange County helped Issa win his 2016 re-election bid by about 1,600 votes.

“We did that with producing a 17,000-vote margin out of the Orange County portion of the district, so that means that we overwhelmed losses in San Diego County,” Whitaker said. “We have to do that again for Diane Harkey. I think that’ll be one of our tighter races.”

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