Democratic candidates in Southern California woke up Wednesday excited about what election results on the other side of the country Tuesday might signal for key congressional races here next year.
“I was optimistic before, & now I’m thrilled,” tweeted Jess Phoenix, one of the Democrats trying to unseat Rep. Steve Knight, R-Santa Clarita, who is among at least six Republican House members from Los Angeles, Orange and Riverside counties who are considered vulnerable in 2018.
Tonight’s election results have me so excited! I was optimistic before, & now I’m thrilled. Reason, compassion, logic, and FACTS have every place in our government! Let’s do this.
— Jess Phoenix (@jessphoenix2018) November 8, 2017
“With your help,” Mike Levin, one of the Democrats challenging Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, wrote in an email to supporters, “we will repeat the victories of Virginia and New Jersey here in California’s 49th District.”
Should Democrats be thrilled — and Republicans worried — after the opposition party scored its first big victories of the Trump era, including wins for governor by Ralph Northam in Virginia and Phil Murphy in New Jersey?
Experts said yes, maybe.
“You’ve got to be encouraged if you’re a Democrat. If you’re a Republican, it’s a reality check,” said Bill Carrick, a Los Angeles-based, Democratic political consultant who isn’t involved in the pivotal races.
Carrick said Tuesday’s results showed Democrats can win by tapping into President Trump’s unpopularity and connecting with voters on health-care, economic and local issues. He said they also showed that Democrats could be helped next year by voting trends in parts of Virginia that are similar to parts of Southern California. A number of “firsts” were recorded with the elections of Latina, Asian American, lesbian and transgender candidates to the Virginia Legislature, and support for Northam over Republican Ed Gillespie extended beyond the usual Democratic bastion of northern Virginia — near Washington, D.C. — to suburban counties that have traditionally gone to the GOP.
Carrick sees a parallel in Southern California, where the Democratic majority that started in L.A. County has begun to reach Orange County, which went for Hillary Clinton in November 2016, the first time since 1936 that it chose a Democrat for president.
Kenton Ngo, director of analytics for the Washington, D.C.-based Progressive Change Campaign Committee, said Democrats’ success in highly educated counties in Virginia — with demographics similar to Orange County’s — should have OC Republicans “quaking in their boots.” In Prince William, Democrats went into Tuesday’s elections with only one of the county’s five members of the lower house of the Virginia Legislature, and came out with all six. Democrats moved to the brink of taking control of the lower house.
Those and other seemingly significant results in states holding elections Tuesday erased Democrats’ frustration over congressional special-election defeats earlier this year in Montana, Georgia and South Carolina.
That could auger well for Democrats’ all-out effort to defeat Republican Reps. Issa, Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach, Mimi Walters, R-Irvine, and Ed Royce, R-Brea, as part of their aim to capture 24 GOP seats nationwide and take control of the House of Representatives.
But Marcia Godwin, professor of public administration at the University of La Verne, said the significance of this week’s elections is “less than meets the eye.”
“You could have predicted that Virginia would be more likely to elect a Democratic governor” after the party held the office for 12 of the past 16 years, Godwin said. “The two governor’s races went the expected route.
“These elections are only predictors of [a shift in] the future if something unexpected happened in the results.”
Godwin said the biggest effect of the elections Tuesday might be to fire up voters at a time when turnout often is key, and draw even more focus by parties and fundraisers on races expected to be competitive. In Southern California, those races include the four in Orange County and those involving Knight and Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Temecula.
Democrats seemed more eager than Republicans to talk about the latest round of elections.
Matt Rexroad, political consultant to Knight, emphasized his man’s strengths rather than national political trends.
“Congressman Knight is an experienced and dedicated public official that has seen the political pendulum swing back and forth many times,” Rexroad said in an email, saying Knight “keeps winning elections because of his lifetime commitment to the community and the trust people have in him.”
Said Bryan Caforio, a Democrat who lost to Knight in 2016 and is running again: “I hope Steve Knight’s takeaway from this is to just keep doing business as usual, because it will highlight how out of touch he is with the community.”
Carrick said Republican House members in California must resist supporting a GOP tax plan that would be costly to many people here, and Republicans everywhere must figure out how to deal with Trump’s low poll ratings.
As for Democrats, Carrick said, “everybody can celebrate for a day or so here. But the truth is you’ve got to go back to work. And there’s a lot to do.”
Staff writers Jeff Horsemen and Martin Wisckol contributed to this report.