A Republican Wave Could Reach Southern California

Irvine, Calif.

Author

Wallace Stegner

once observed that California is like the rest of America, only more so. California Republicans are benefiting from the same forces propelling the GOP nationwide, only more so. Democratic vulnerabilities, namely high gasoline prices and rising crime, are more pronounced in the Golden State than they are elsewhere.

A decade ago, Republicans held 19 of California’s 53 House districts. A Democratic offensive into GOP strongholds in Southern California suburbs and the rural Central Valley reduced the GOP to 11 seats. Republicans in 2020 won back four House seats that they’d lost in the 2018 midterms, but California’s redrawn Congressional map was expected to make these seats challenging to hold. Now the political winds have shifted and the GOP’s odds of holding those seats, and possibly picking up four others, have improved considerably.

The race with the greatest symbolic importance is the face-off between two-term progressive Rep.

Katie Porter

and Republican challenger

Scott Baugh

to represent the 47th Congressional District. The district sweeps Orange County’s coastline but is centered on Irvine, a heavily Asian-American city of planned communities with well-manicured neighborhoods, parks and shopping centers. Voters here worry about rising crime and public disorder. Homeless people have begun turning up in front of stores and on walking trails.

Ms. Porter is an

Elizabeth Warren

protégée. Like her mentor, she has developed a following on the left by lambasting CEOs in hearings, which has helped her raise $22.5 million this election cycle. Mr. Baugh is a former state assemblyman who doesn’t have much campaign money or a compelling biography. But Ms. Porter’s unique vulnerabilities have made the race competitive.

She won election in 2018 amid an anti-Trump wave by campaigning against the GOP tax reform’s $10,000 cap on the state-and-local tax deduction. But unlike colleagues from New York and New Jersey, Ms. Porter never put up much of a fight in Congress over SALT. In recent weeks, she has tried to rewrite history with ads touting her work “protecting Orange County taxpayers” by opposing earmarks and sponsoring a bill making it illegal to sell gasoline at “an excessive and exploitative price” if the president declares an energy emergency. Earmarks in Congress’s spending bills have passed despite her opposition and her “price gouging” bill never had any chance of passing the Senate.

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Lately Ms. Porter’s campaign has been taking flak for a series of July 2021 text messages in which she berated Irvine Mayor

Farrah Khan

after a rowdy outdoor town hall. As reported by Fox News Digital, when Irvine cops arrested a male friend of the congresswoman for allegedly punching a protester, Ms. Porter texted the mayor, “Your police force is a disgrace.” A spokesperson said Ms. Porter was upset because the event had been “hijacked by extremists.”

Democrats have a slender voter-registration advantage in the 47th District, and it’s evident from Ms. Porter’s frantic emails in recent weeks that she thinks the race will come down to turnout. Strong Democratic turnout helped catapult her and her direct Democratic neighbor to the south, Rep.

Mike Levin,

into office. Low turnout this year could as easily sweep them out.

Like Ms. Porter, Mr. Levin is an unabashed progressive who describes himself on Twitter as a “clean energy advocate.” His problem is that he doesn’t know how to do anything other than advocate. “How we wean ourselves off of that is not to double down on the dirty-energy policies of the past. It’s not to spread misinformation or disinformation about the transition to cleaner energy, but it’s to actually embrace a more sustainable future,” he told seniors at a recent event.

Mr. Levin portrays his GOP opponent,

Brian Maryott,

as an extremist. But Mr. Maryott favors an all-of-the-above energy policy including fracking and renewables.

Barack Obama

embraced this strategy not long ago. Now most Democrats support a green-energy-only strategy, which in California has led to the nation’s highest energy prices. This explains why Democrats are in danger of losing contests in which they had been heavily favored in coastal Ventura County and the Central Valley.

Hispanics make up a large share of the Central Valley’s redrawn 13th District, where Democrats have a 14-point voter-registration advantage. No incumbent is running for the seat, yet Democratic state Assemblyman

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Adam Gray

has found himself in an unexpectedly tight race with Republican businessman

John Duarte.

A big reason is Mr. Gray’s 2017 vote to raise the state’s gasoline tax, which has hit the district’s working-class Hispanics hard. Earlier this year he tried to compensate for his vote by sponsoring a bill to suspend the tax. But after Democratic leaders lobbied against it, Mr. Gray declined to join Republicans in a vote to advance his own bill.

In Ventura County, Democratic Rep.

Julia Brownley

was first elected in 2012 and cruised to a fifth term two years ago with a 20 point-margin. While Democrats have a 15-point registration advantage in her district, Ms. Brownley is struggling to fend off a challenge from Republican

Matt Jacobs,

whom she has refused to debate in person. Like many Democrats facing tough re-election fights, she has tried to change the focus from inflation and gasoline prices to abortion. This isn’t a winning issue among Hispanics who make up 45% of the county and tend to be culturally conservative. Ms. Brownley’s focus on abortion this summer, when gasoline prices averaged more than $6 a gallon, reinforced Republican portrayals of her as out of touch.

This is a nationwide problem for Democrats, but it’s particularly acute in California, where elite liberals live in an echo chamber. With middle-class Americans hurting economically, Democrats appear preoccupied by cultural obsessions like climate and abortion. They don’t want to talk about issues paining middle-class Americans, and when they do, they offer unserious solutions. If Democrats lose House seats in California on Nov. 8, it will be because they have lost touch with economic reality and mainstream voters.

Ms. Finley is a Journal columnist and editorial board member.

Wonder Land: Voters in the city want out of the suicide pact that is doctrinaire progressivism (06/08/22). Images: AP/AFP/Getty Images Composite: Mark Kelly

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