Southern California Races to Watch in the Battle for Congress

Democrats held a narrow 220-212 edge over Republicans in the U.S. House, with three vacancies, entering Election Day. These California races could prove pivotal.

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A handful of races in Southern California might play a part in the battle for control of Congress in a critical midterm election that could reshape the country.

Tens of millions of voters throughout the United States have already cast ballots, including those for U.S. House and Senate races. Tuesday marks the first General Election since the Jan. 6 Capitol riot and the Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade, and has as its backdrop a turbulent economy and concerns about the future of democracy and surging inflation.

Democrats are trying to maintain their narrow control of the House and Senate, which could both shift to Republicans if voters issue a rebuke of the party amid surging inflation, concerns about crime and pessimism about the direction of the country.

President Biden made two trips to California in less than three weeks in support of Democratic House members. Losing control of the House and Senate would be a grim development entering the final two years of his term.

Election Results 2022

Source: Associated Press. (Note: This data may be slightly different than results from NBC News' Decision Desk used elsewhere on this site)
Amy O'Kruk/NBC

Democrats hold every statewide office and wide margins in the California Legislature and congressional delegation. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by nearly 2-to-1 statewide, and a GOP candidate hasn’t won a statewide race since 2006.

But Congressional races, broken into smaller districts, are different animals. There isn't a high-profile competitive race to drive Democratic voter turnout. Gov. Gavin Newsom and U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla, both Democrats, are expected to win by large margins. The party also can’t escape blame for the homeless crisis, $7-per-gallon fuel, some of the nation’s highest taxes and other grievances that place some Democratic challengers and incumbents alike in precarious positions.

Democrats now hold a 220-212 edge over Republicans in the U.S. House, with three vacancies. To have a majority requires 218 seats.

Here are key Congressional races to watch in Southern California. California uses a top-two primary election system, meaning the top two vote-getters, regardless of party affiliation, move on to the general election. 

U.S. House District 27

One race to watch in Southern California is in a Congressional district north of Los Angeles that has been a battleground during recent election cycles.

Several Democrats were vying in the primary to unseat 27th District Rep. Mike Garcia, who advanced to the November runoff with Democratic challenger Christy Smith. In 2020, Garcia won a narrow victory in the Democratic-leaning district.

The former Navy fighter pilot was endorsed by Donald Trump that year, then joined House Republicans who rejected electoral votes from Arizona and Pennsylvania and opposed Trump’s impeachment after the Capitol insurrection.

Smith, an Assembly member, ran to fill the seat in a special election after the resignation of Katie Hill in 2019. She lost in that contest and the regularly scheduled election.

The district includes part of the San Fernando Valley, a swath of the Antelope Valley and Santa Clarita. It has flip-flopped between Democrats and Republicans in recent elections after years of providing a reliable GOP stronghold.

U.S. House District 37

This seat was held by Los Angeles mayoral candidate Karen Bass in the House of Representatives. Seven primary candidates were competing to succeed her in Congressional District 37.

State Sen. Sydney Kamlager has Bass' backing. Councilwoman Jan Perry picked up an endorsement from Rep. Maxine Waters.

U.S. House District 41

Shaped somewhat like a W, this sweeping district east of Los Angeles includes Riverside, Palm springs and some of the fastest growing cities of the Inland Empire.

Republican Ken Calvert, a member of Congress since 1993, marched to a commanding win in the primary, followed by Will Rollins. Rollins is a former federal prosecutor.

Calvert is the longest-serving GOP member of California’s congressional delegation.

U.S. House District 45

District 45 offers a race to watch in Orange County.

Won by Michelle Steel in 2020, redistricting reshaped the contest. Steel's home in Seal Beach was re-drawn into the same district as Rep. Katie Porter, and she elected to run the 45th District instead of 47th. She faces a challenge from Democrat Jay Chen.

Steel is a former California Republican Party chair and current Republican National Committee chair from California. She also served on the state Board of Equalization and the Orange County Board of Supervisors.

Chen is a community college board trustee and former school board member.

The district includes a swath of OC from Brea and Fullerton, east to Artesia and south to Westminster and Garden Grove.

U.S. House District 47

As for Porter, she faces a challenge from Republican attorney Scott Baugh, a former state assemblyman and Orange County GOP chair. Porter jumped out in front double digits, according to an early count of mail-in ballots.

Biden was in Southern California last month on behalf of Porter, a star of the party’s progressive wing after four years on the national stage. The district is one of about a dozen Congressional races in California considered competitive.

The district is about evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, but has a conservative streak that benefits her GOP challenger. Communities include Seal Beach, Laguna Beach and nearby coastal communities, and Costa Mesa and Irvine.

Other California Congressional district races to watch include District 3 along the state's eastern border, districts 9, 13 and 22 in the Central Valley, and District 49 north of San Diego.

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