“California here we come
Right back where we started from.”
If “The Resistance” was a spontaneous reaction to the election and inauguration of President Trump, California’s 49th district may just be the birthplace.
Consisting mostly of Orange County and a small slice of San Diego County, CA-49 is the ancestral home of Republicanism going back to the days of Presidents Nixon and Reagan. In more recent years, the area’s demographics have shifted and become more diverse and high-income. And in this district and many others, the more educated whites have sided with Democrats.
In 2016, CA-49 was home to the closest election in the entire House of Representatives, where incumbent Congressman Darrell Issa wasn’t declared the winner until weeks later and by a margin of fewer than 1,000 votes. Even before Issa’s surprise announcement of retiring in late 2017, this race got a lot of attention, with multiple Democrats throwing their hats in the ring to run for the seat. Fast forward to June 5th, the day of California’s primary, where the ballot listed a whopping 16 total candidates (in California’s top-two system everyone runs on the same line, irrespective of party) with Republican Diane Harkey and Democrat Mike Levin advancing to the general election.
Hillary Clinton won this seat 50.7 percent to 43.2 percent over President Trump, a 14.2 percent swing from 2012 (where Mitt Romney defeated President Obama 52.4 percent to 45.7 percent).
In a sign that 2016 was not an aberration, the Democratic share of 2018 primary vote was 50.8 to 46.6 percent for the combined Republican share. Republicans in California have struggled mightily in the last several cycles to field a full slate of candidates for statewide office (It’s a point of pride for them that their preferred candidate for Governor advanced to the general, which they failed to do for the Senate seat.).
In another year and election, this seat might be a toss-up or even lean Republican. Diana Harkey is an experienced and solid candidate who will have little trouble raising money for the general election. However, it’s unclear-and unlikely that Republican groups will spend a lot to prop her up when there are dozens of other races, including those with incumbents, they need to defend.
Mike Levin ran a superb campaign and is considered a charismatic and deft campaigner. With the primary completed, Democrats in the 49th district and in D.C. will close ranks and support him to take a seat they’ve been dreaming of having for some time.
2016 presidential results: Clinton, 50.7 percent-Trump, 43.2 percent
2012 presidential results: Romney, 52.4 percent-Obama, 45.7 percent
Net change, 2012-2016: D+14.2 percent
The Crosstab Democratic pick up percent: 89 percent
Cook Political Report rating: Lean-D