Two threatened U.S. House Republicans in California triumphed over Democratic challengers Monday, helping move the GOP within a seat of seizing control of the chamber while a string of congressional races in the state remained in play.
In a bitter fight southeast of Los Angeles, Republican Rep. Michelle Steel defeated Democrat Jay Chen in a district that was specifically drawn to give Asian Americans, who comprise the largest group in the district, a stronger voice on Capitol Hill. It includes the nation’s largest Vietnamese community.
East of Los Angeles, Republican Rep. Ken Calvert notched a win over Democrat Will Rollins. With 80% of the votes tallied, Calvert, the longest serving Republican in the California congressional delegation, established a nearly 5,500-vote edge in the contest.
Ten races in the state remained undecided as vote-counting continued, though only a handful were seen as tight enough to break either way.
It takes 218 seats to control the House. Republicans have locked down 217 seats so far, with Democrats claiming 205.
Should Democrats fail to protect their fragile majority, Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield would be in line to replace Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco.
In the 45th District anchored in Orange County, Steel, a South Korean immigrant looking for a second term in Congress, faced Chen, a Navy reservist and the son of immigrants from Taiwan. The race was being watched nationally for what it says about the preferences of the Asian community.
The candidates initially made inflation and hate crimes against Asian Americans key issues. But the race took an ugly turn and most of it focused on accusation and recrimination.
Chen’s advertising depicted Steel as an extremist who would threaten abortion rights, while Republicans accused Chen of “racism” after he told supporters an “interpreter” was needed to understand Steel’s remarks, arguing that Chen was mocking her accented English. Chen said he was referring to “convoluted talking points” that he said Steel uses to sidestep issues.
Steel also distributed flyers depicting Chen as a communist sympathizer, while Chen has said his grandmother fled China to escape communist rule.
In California, the primary House battlegrounds are Orange County — a suburban expanse southeast of Los Angeles that was once a GOP stronghold but has become increasingly diverse and Democratic — and the Central Valley, an inland stretch sometimes called the nation’s salad bowl for its agricultural production.
The tightest remaining contest in the state emerged in the Central Valley, where Democrat Adam Gray seized a tissue-thin lead after Republican John Duarte jumped ahead by 84 votes in a fight for an open seat in District 13.
Underscoring the tightness of the contest, Gray’s campaign formed a committee to begin raising money to finance a possible recount. Those costs, which are paid to county election officials, fall on the campaign committee or voter that requested a recount. Generally, such requests cannot be made until a month after the election.
The latest returns showed Gray leading by 761 votes, with nearly 80% of the votes tabulated.
In Orange County, one of the state’s marquee races tightened when an updated vote tally showed Republican Scott Baugh slashing in half a narrow edge held by Democratic Rep. Katie Porter. Porter, a star of the party’s progressive wing, was leading the former legislator Baugh by about 2,900 votes — or just over 1 percentage point — with nearly 80% of the votes counted.
In another battleground district north of Los Angeles, Republican Rep. Mike Garcia held a comfortable edge over Democrat Christy Smith in their third consecutive match-up, after Garcia claimed the first two.
The latest returns — with about two-thirds of the votes counted — showed Garcia with 54.4%, to 45.6% for Smith.
In a statement on Twitter, Smith said her chances for seizing the seat had “narrowed significantly" and "it’s likely Garcia holds the seat.”
Democrats also were holding significant margins in several districts, including the Central Valley's 9th, where Democratic Rep. Josh Harder had a nearly 13-point edge over Republican Tom Patti.
In the Central Valley’s 22nd District, where about half the votes have been counted, Republican Rep. David Valadao, who voted to impeach then-President Donald Trump, had a 5-point margin over Democrat Rudy Salas.