California Primary Election: Will Democrats Be Able to Flip House Seats?

‘It’s better than typing my thoughts on Facebook,’ said one volunteer in the 39th District.

Miriam Jordan

Reporting from the 39th District, including parts of Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino counties.

Braving the blistering Southern California sun, Patti Adams and her daughter, Olivia, set out to erect signs for Mai Khanh Tran, a political neophyte running in the 39th District.

Ms. Adams, a 53-year-old educator, typifies the newly engaged Californian Democrats: She watched elections from the sidelines all her life, she said. Then Mr. Trump’s presidential victory and his policies on health care, education, immigration and the environment drove her to become a campaign activist.

A resident of Diamond Bar, a diverse, middle-class community outside of Los Angeles, Ms. Adams said that she saw in Dr. Tran a candidate whose views aligned with hers and who was not tainted by special interests. Ms. Adams has done policy research, made voter calls and prepared mailers for Dr. Tran, a Vietnamese refugee and pediatrician raised in California.

“It has been so empowering for me,” she said, as she drove around with a stash of signs in her silver Dodge Caravan van. “It’s better than typing my thoughts on Facebook.”

Then, spotting a prime spot at a busy intersection near a strip mall, she got out to plant a sign.

At least one Republican isn’t voting for the party’s candidates for governor.

Arnold Schwarzenegger — the former Republican governor, who has been championing a movement in the state to move the party to the center — said he was not going to vote for any of the Republican gubernatorial candidates in the primary.

Mr. Schwarzenegger said he could not support anyone — even a fellow party member — who opposed the auto emission reduction programs that he pushed through when he was governor. Those programs have been pursued aggressively by Mr. Brown, his successor, in the face of a strong challenge from the Trump administration.

“Governor Schwarzenegger won’t vote for any candidate who advocates the outdated and disproved belief that California’s environmental progress is incompatible with our economic success,” said Daniel Ketchell, his spokesman. “Republicans who would undo our market-based cap and trade system should study the history of President Ronald Reagan, who used cap and trade to address the ozone layer, and President George H.W. Bush, who used it to address acid rain.”

Mr. Schwarzenegger’s decision, which was first reported by The Los Angeles Times, is unusual but not a surprise. He has warned that the Republican Party is becoming increasingly irrelevant in California because of its stands on immigration and the environment. The top two Republican candidates for governor here — Mr. Cox and Travis Allen, a member of the State Assembly — have aligned themselves with Mr. Trump on those issues.

— Adam Nagourney from Los Angeles

A Republican incumbent is under pressure in Antelope Valley in the 25th District.

Sydney Ember

Reporting from the 25th District, just north of Los Angeles.

Democratic strategists view the 25th District — one of the few bastions of conservatism in Los Angeles County — as one of their best opportunities nationwide to flip a seat.

The Republican incumbent, Representative Steve Knight voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act and in favor of the tax law, which Democrats see as vulnerabilities. That part of his voting record might not sit well in a largely working- and middle-class district that could be hit hard by new regulations that limit deductions in high-tax states like California.

And younger, more left-leaning families who were priced out of the Los Angeles housing market have moved into the district, diversifying the population, which is now nearly 40 percent Latino.

“This is the Democratic stronghold,” said Bryan Caforio, one of the Democratic candidates in the race. “There are more Democrats in the Antelope Valley than anywhere else.”

On Monday, he held a news conference on gun reform high up in the parched, rolling hills of Simi Valley. His backdrop: The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, built for a president who embodied the area’s hard-core conservatism.

Was the location symbolic? “People can draw that conclusion,” Mr. Caforio, dressed in jeans and a button-down shirt, said coyly before the sparsely attended event.

The other candidates were using the last day before the primary to pitch voters, as well. Katie Hill, a nonprofit executive, was canvassing and calling undecided voters. Jess Phoenix, a volcanologist, was recording robocalls and making signs.

But the sprawling nature of the district, which stretches from Simi Valley in the west to the high desert of Antelope Valley in the east, can pose challenges for candidates hoping to connect with voters directly, and that issues that matter to voters can vary. After the gun reform event (and a quick lunch), Mr. Caforio planned to drive out to Palmdale, more than an hour away.

This candidate imagined all the cruel things people might say about her, and still decided to run.

Jose A. Del Real

Reporting from the 49th District in San Diego and Orange Counties, south of Los Angeles.

Like many first-time candidates in this year’s elections, Sara Jacobs, a Democrat in the 49th District, decided to run over frustration with politics, especially after 2016.

But running for public office can be punishing, she conceded. Before she began her campaign, she wrote down all of the cruel things she thought people would and could say about her. Then she had her friends read the comments out loud in front of her. “And that didn’t even come close to what people have said about me,” she said, with a laugh.

Ms. Jacobs, 29, was encouraged to enter the race by Emily’s List, a fund-raising organization devoted to electing women who support abortion rights. She sees her age and gender as strengths, though she said both have made it easier for people to question her qualifications.

The granddaughter of one of Qualcomm’s co-founders, she has been able to largely self-fund her campaign.

Polling has been scattershot in the district, which stretches from the southern tip of Orange County down past Encinitas toward San Diego and is one of the most hotly pursued seats by Democrats in their quest to flip the House. Recent numbers have put Ms. Jacobs between second and fourth place.

“Voters really are looking for a change, for something different,” Ms. Jacobs said. “And I provide the best, clearest example of what different looks like.”


Sara Jacobs, a congressional candidate, right, talks with Amy Kuhn, her political director, at their campaign headquarters on Monday.

Hilary Swift for The New York Times

Democrats face a crowded field in the Central Valley.

Thomas Fuller

Reporting from the 10th District in the Central Valley.

Jerry Kinkey, 71, is precisely the type of voter that Democrats are counting on this year. He also offers a cautionary tale for the long list of Democrats fighting it out for a spot on the November ballot.

In the driveway of his home in Tracy, on the western fringe of the 10th District, Mr. Kinkey, a registered Republican and a Vietnam veteran, said he had flipped in this election. He voted by mail last week.

He dropped his support of Jeff Denham, the Republican incumbent, because Mr. Denham voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The top Democratic contenders to unseat him include Josh Harder, a former technology venture capitalist who has raised $1.5 million for his campaign; Virginia Madueño, the former mayor of the small city of Riverbank; and Sue Zwahlen, an emergency room nurse.

So which Democrat did Mr. Kinkey pick?

There were so many names on the ballot, he can’t remember. “I had to wing it,” he said.


Josh Harder and his fiancée at a campaign event in the Central Valley of California. Mr. Harder has raised more money than his Democratic opponents combined in the 10th District race.

Alpana Aras-King for The New York Times

If you shrank California’s political dynamics down to a single constituency it might look something like the 10th District, a patchwork of liberal-leaning cities and more conservative rural farming communities east of San Jose. There are rows and rows of peach and cherry trees, almond groves and cattle farms. And there are also fast-growing cities like Tracy and Manteca, which increasingly serve as bedroom communities for the San Francisco Bay Area.

In 2016, Mr. Denham, a businessman, squeaked past his Democratic challenger, Michael Eggman, a beekeeper. (Mr. Eggman is running again.)

Mr. Denham, who has raised $3 million, is widely considered a shoo-in on Tuesday. There is also the seemingly remote possibility of two Republicans advancing in the jungle primary: Ted Howze, a veterinarian active in Republican politics in the city of Turlock, is challenging Mr. Denham, although federal filings show he has not raised any money.

All eyes are on November in the 21st District.

Elizabeth Dias

Reporting from the 21st District in the Central Valley.

In the 21st District, where tumbleweeds blow across the freeway that cuts through miles and miles of peach and almond farms, the suspense is not around who will win Tuesday’s primary, but on just how motivated Democrats are to flip this district from red to blue come November.

Only two names are on the ballot in this congressional race, so both will advance: Representative David G. Valadao, the Republican incumbent since 2013, and the Democratic challenger, T.J. Cox, an engineer and businessman from Fresno. For now, Mr. Cox has been phone banking at his field office in Hanford, not far from where Mr. Valadao has been meeting with constituents and the California Farm Bureau.

Though this Central Valley district has long been represented in Congress by Republicans, there are nearly 40,000 more Democrats registered to vote than Republicans, and Mrs. Clinton beat out Mr. Trump here in 2016.

Here’s one way to stand in the shoes of a politician.

Our reporter covering the 21st District, Elizabeth Dias, joined Mr. Cox on a tour of an almond processing plant on Monday; follow her on Twitter @elizabethjdias for more. (Note: The temperature was forecast to reach 99 degrees today. Definitely flip-flop weather.)

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