Democrats' Primary Wins Bolster Party's Efforts to Take House

(Bloomberg) -- Democrats bolstered their attempt to win control of the U.S. House by skirting a disaster in California primaries and getting the party’s favored candidates nominated in competitive contests in New Jersey and Iowa.

In California Tuesday, it appeared Democratic candidates will advance to the general election in a trio of GOP-held swing districts. Party leaders feared they could be shut out of those Southern California races with the crowd of Democratic contenders splitting votes and letting two Republicans advance to the November ballot under California’s unusual open primary system.

Democrats need a gain of at least 23 seats nationally to wrest the House majority from Republicans in November’s elections, and the Tuesday primaries may help Democrats hit that goal. A CBS News poll released Sunday showed the contest for control of the House neck-and-neck with Democrats having a slight edge.

“The Democratic party will have difficulty running the table in the GOP-held swing U.S. House districts in November, but Democrats will probably get some pickups that have the potential to affect national control of the House,” said Christian Grose, a political science professor at the University of Southern California.

Top Targets

California has seven of the Republican-held districts among 23 across the country that are top Democratic targets after Hillary Clinton won them over President Donald Trump in the 2016 election.

In a Fullerton-area district being vacated by the retiring Ed Royce, Democrat Gil Cisneros is poised to challenge Republican Young Kim. In a San Diego-area district where Darrell Issa is stepping down, Democrat Mike Levin is slated to take on Republican Diane Harkey. Clinton won both those districts 51 percent to Trump’s 43 percent.

Democrats’ biggest fear of a shutout was in an Orange County district held by 15-term Republican Dana Rohrabacher. That appears likely to be averted as Democrat Harley Rouda led Democrat Hans Keirstead by just 73 votes for the second slot with all precincts reporting; Republican Scott Baugh was more than 1,000 votes behind. The final result hasn’t been announced yet with some mail-in and provisional ballots still to be counted.

Elsewhere in California, Democrats have all but secured candidates to take on politically vulnerable GOP incumbents Jeff Denham, Steve Knight, Mimi Walters, and David Valadao.

“Democrats remain alive in all of their targets, which was not guaranteed going into Tuesday night,” said Kyle Kondik, the managing editor of the election forecaster Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia.

Path Ahead

Tyler Law, a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman, touted the group’s investments and ground organization. “As we await final results in multiple districts, it is clear that Democrats are in a stronger position than ever to take back the House, and winning districts in California will be central to that path,” he said Wednesday.

As a measure of the importance of the California contests, the DCCC spent a combined $5.5 million in the three swing districts where they feared getting locked out of the general election, according to Federal Election Commission reports.

National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Steve Stivers said Kim and Harkey should prevail because “the last thing Southern California needs is the far-left, out-of-touch politics of Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats.”

Eight Primaries

California, New Jersey and Iowa were among eight states that voted on Tuesday. Voters in Alabama, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico and South Dakota also cast ballots in the biggest round of voting in the 2018 primary season, covering almost a fifth of all U.S. House districts.

In New Jersey, national Democrats landed their preferred candidates in four Republican-held House races that are rated competitive by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report: Tom Malinowski (to take on incumbent Leonard Lance), Mikie Sherrill (for an open seat vacated by Rodney Frelinghuysen), Jeff Van Drew (for a seat opened up by Frank LoBiondo), and Andy Kim (who ran unopposed to challenge incumbent Tom MacArthur).

A warning sign for Democrats came in the Garden State’s Senate race, where two-term incumbent Bob Menendez won his primary but little-known challenger Lisa McCormick, who reported raising no funds for her campaign through April 15 and focused on his ethics issues, got 38 percent of the vote. It indicates vulnerabilities for the two-term Democrat in November, when he’ll face Republican Bob Hugin, who was until January the executive chairman of Celgene Corp.

In competitive House districts in Iowa, Democrats nominated Abby Finkenauer to take on Republican Rod Blum, and Cindy Axne to challenge David Young. Both Republicans are incumbents who ran unopposed.

Women made a strong showing in Tuesday’s primaries, with 41 of 92 female candidates in House and Senate races advancing to the general election, based on preliminary results.

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