A stinging setback in California is a warning to Democrats in 2022

LOS ANGELES – Two years ago, Democrats celebrated a contingent of seven Republican-held congressional seats in California, a testament to the party’s increasing ability to compete in swing districts here and throughout the country.

But this year, Republicans voted Joseph R. As Biden Jr. snatched four of them back in California to discredit President Trump. The loss shocked Democrats and contributed to the razor-thin margins the party would hold in the House of Representatives this January.

The turnaround is testimony to how competitive the seats are, especially in Orange County, once a bastion of conservative Republicanism that has been consistently Democratic over the past 20 years.

But by any measure, the results were a setback for Democrats in this state and nationally, indicating steep barriers to competition in 2022, primarily in suburban swing districts that boosted their takeover of the House in 2018.

Democrats’ losses came for a variety of reasons, including the strength for California in particular, and the complexities of the campaign during an epidemic. But however much they reflected the power of the Republican attacks, some false or exaggerated, that the Democrats were the party of socialism, to discredit the police and abolish private health insurance.

The attacks – led in no small part by Mr. Trump as a central part of his re-election strategy – came at a time when parts of California were swept away by street protests against police abuses, including Some of the glass-shattering encounters turned into looting and confrontations with law enforcement that prevailed on local television.

“Republicans hang in the throats of Democrats whether we are all socialists or communists and we all wanted to save the police,” said Harley Ruda, a Democrat from Orange County who lost to Republican member Michelle Steele of Orange County Supervisors Were. . “In my opinion, as a party we did less than enough work to refute the plot. We won in 2018 and withdrew the House due to people like me – Moderate – flipping Republican Republic seats. “

Republicans said efforts by Democrats to portray themselves as moderates were undercut by a shift of the party to the left and demonstrations.

“It was very easy for us to meet the contradictions,” said California Republican Party leader Jessica Milne Patterson. He said protests were taking place “everywhere.” It resembled a war zone. “

For all of that, the electoral outcome is the result of many factors – and this was particularly the case in a campaign that played against a deadly epidemic and with such polarization Mr. Trump dominated the political debate.

Democrats said they were also hurt by a national policy set by the party to avoid door-to-door canvassing during the epidemic. Presumably, this will not be a factor in 2022.

Representative TJ Cox said “there is a No. 1 issue in our campaign, we can’t”, a Democrat who said the San Joaquin represents the Valley and lost to David Valado, the Republican he united in 2018 . ” door to door.” He said it was like playing for a football team stating that “they can’t pass.”

Christy Smith, a Democrat from northern Los Angeles County who failed to win a district her party occupied in 2018, said she followed public health guidelines to her detriment. (Katie Hill, the Democrat who won in 2018, stepped down after being accused of having an inappropriate relationship with a staff member.)

“We could not attend a stage or a town hall,” Ms Smith said. “This is my favorite way to campaign.”

California was often at a disadvantage in Republican-leaning districts to counter Kovid-19, where the mask-wearing mandate has been disregarded and contempted for the state’s Democratic governor, Gavin Newsome.

“Everyone’s worried about Kovid,” said Sam Oh, a young mentor to two of the Republican winners, Young Kim and Ms. Steele. “But we are trying to give small business owners a way to make a living. This is incredibly important and Democrats are tone-def for it. “

And Republicans, analysts said, recruited strong candidates, which is always the most important task in an election. They included Ms. Steele and Ms. Kim, who would join the first Korean-American members of Congress, and Mike Garcia, a former military pilot who won a special election in May to replace Ms. Hill, and then Ms. Smith. Was defeated. November

Democrats set their target on seven Republican-held seats in 2018 and won all, cutting California’s Republican congressional delegation in half. That sweep suggested that Democrats were encroaching on once-Republican areas of the state to explain how the party could compete in swing districts around the country.

But Republicans succeeded this time by playing on topics that have long resonated among moderate voters, especially in places like Orange County: high taxes, meddling government and law and order. Democrats said the debate on the national stage had hurt them, especially among Latino and Asian-American voters.

“I think we evaluated the strength of the attack,” said Dan Senna, the first Hispanic executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “National Socialism Messaging, combined with the crime message, was killed by a thousand cuts in a place like California.”

Ms. Smith said she was disappointed in trying to campaign in an environment “where Republicans have been persistent in false narratives,” and Democrats have failed to figure out how to address them. “We never got our hands around it,” he said.

For California Republicans, the victory was a rare glimpse of good news for a party that has been in decline in this state. “Now we have a blueprint that shows that these really dynamic candidates can win with a president, who is running in a polarized environment,” Mr. Oh said. “We are in an incredibly good position looking forward.”

In a possible sign of an inning, Mr. Newsom is facing a recall campaign, due in no small part to his handling of the epidemic, and while it is unlikely that he will be knocked out of office and a Republican It is certainly not impossible. In this way, Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, became governor in 2003.

“California is at a turning point,” Ms. Patterson said. “People are waking up to what the Democrats are doing here. It was a referendum on what California Democrats are doing and what governors are doing in this state. “

Republicans argued that the results here – and across the country – were powerful evidence that many voters were rejecting the policies that leftist Democrats were advocating.

“Democrats said they were going to take 10 to 15 seats in the House,” said Torun Sinclair, a press secretary on the National Republican Congressional Committee. “Obviously they are missing something. It has to go back to these far-flung policies that people did not want yet. “‘Medical for All,’ Police Overlooked.”

The margin of victory in California’s axis districts was narrow for Democratic winners in 2018 and Republican winners in 2020.

One of Orange County’s Democrats, who won in 2018 and was re-elected in 2020, “these districts – including mine – were too hard to flip”, said Rep. Katie Porter. He was always going to be in a very competitive race. “

Democratic Strategist, Darry Sragow, said the state Republican Party did not lose ground in 2020. “But it is very difficult to argue that they are better,” he said. “Congressional districts were always Republican until 2018, when Democrats removed them.”

Four losing Democrats are calling for a rematch in 2022, though district lines will be remodeled as part of the decisive redistricting process to take place before the next election. And both sides said the race would be tight again.

“It was a break,” said Mr. Cox, a San Joaquin Valley Democrat. “But keep in mind that we lost less than 1 percent, without running a field campaign. So it’s not surprising that we fell a little short of playing with these factors.

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