If some uber-right Republicans pressured Speaker Kevin McCarthy, they could have destroyed the GOP’s chances of retaining California’s marginal seats and thereby controlling the House.
McCarthy, whose district centers on Bakersfield, has made winning seats in his home state a high priority, recruiting candidates and giving them whatever money they need. It paid off last year when Republicans won back four of the seven California districts they lost during the 2020 presidential election and, in some analyses, gave McCarthy a narrow margin he needed to become a speaker.
The current count is 221 Republicans and 212 Democrats with two vacancies, so there is no need for the latter to regain the majority they have held for years before 2022.
The GOP victory forced long-serving Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco to hand over the gavel to McCarthy, her rival from 250 miles to the southeast. However, its narrowness forced McCarthy to make concessions to the right in order to be elected speaker after the election – procedural changes that ultimately led to his ouster.
Eventually, after several false starts, House Republicans last week elevated Mike Johnson, a Louisiana congressman more aligned with the right wing than McCarthy, who is suspected of harboring centrist leanings.
That made California’s Republican delegation — especially those that won back four seats from Democrats in 2022 — political orphans, unable to count on McCarthy’s fundraising ability to thwart the powerful efforts of the Democrats to fire them.
The GOP’s problem in California is magnified by 2024 being a presidential election year, which usually means a higher voter turnout, and Democratic efforts to link Republican incumbents to former Presidents. Donald Trump, who is not very popular in California, and now Speaker Johnson.
Within hours of Johnson’s election, Democratic campaign operatives beat the media drums about Johnson’s anti-abortion and anti-gay positions and his support for Trump’s efforts to overturn the results. in the 2000 presidential election.
“Mike Johnson is Jim Jordan with a sports coat – probably worse – and he has a new posse of best friends in California: Kiley, Duarte, Valadao, Garcia, Kim, Calvert and Steel,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Dan Gottlieb said in a typical broadside. “These GOP shills have enabled MAGA extremism every step of the way, and we will make sure voters know they are once again putting the far right before California workers and families.”
The seven GOP congressmen cited by Gottlieb are generally considered Democratic targets next year, but they vary in degree of vulnerability, with four of the districts carried by President Joe Biden considered the most at risk.
They are David Valadao of the San Joaquin Valley, Mike Garcia of suburban Los Angeles County and Young Kim and Michelle Steel of Orange County.
The other three, John Duarte of the San Joaquin Valley, Ken Calvert of the Southern California desert and Kevin Kiley of Placer County, don’t seem so vulnerable.
“There’s nothing better than having Kevin McCarthy from the Central Valley as the Republican speaker of the House,” Duarte told Politico. “And I’m a Central Valley Republican running in a tough district.”
While Republican-held seats will be key battlegrounds in deep blue California next year, there are some Democrat-held districts in play, most notably Orange County’s 47th district. Democrat Katie Porter won a narrow re-election in 2022 and is giving up her seat to run for the US Senate.
Republican Scott Baugh, who was defeated by Porter, returned for a second attempt while the main Democratic contenders were state Sen. Dave Min, who was arrested this year for drunk driving, and local activist Joanna Weiss.