Republican Congressman Mike Garcia had a target painted on his back this year.
Garcia barely won a special election in 2020 and a full term later that year, twice defeating Democrat Christy Smith, a former state representative, the second time by just 333 votes.
However, Garcia’s district in the northern Los Angeles suburbs fell 12 percentage points for Democrat Joe Biden in this year’s presidential runoff, and when its boundaries were redrawn by the state’s New District Commission, his Democratic voter registration margin grew to more than 12 percentage points.
All of this made Garcia, a former Navy fighter pilot, a potential prime target in 2022 as Democrats attempted to block Republicans from taking control of the House of Representatives.
Ultimately, however, Garcia managed a surprisingly easy re-election, defeating Smith by about 5 percentage points, and coincidentally his win gave the GOP the 218 seats they needed to take control of the House. Also coincidentally, Garcia’s 27th congressional district borders the 20th CD of GOP House Leader Kevin McCarthy, who is likely to be the next speaker.
The Democratic campaign hierarchy for some reason had not launched the all-out assault on Garcia that had been widely expected, and Smith, who had lost for the third time, was outraged.
“Our campaign has almost zero outside resources to fight this fight. In fact, from the start of this race, I fought against the institutional power of my own party,” Smith said in one of several Twitter posts in which she lamented that her lack of party support meant “we didn’t stand a chance.”
Garcia’s victory is symbolic of what happened in California’s congressional elections this year. Despite the pre-election prediction that the state, with its huge number of seats and deep blue tilts, would make it a major battleground, the result was a virtual tie.
Republicans needed a net gain of at least five seats statewide to control the House of Representatives, and Democrats believed that with their redistribution of districts and their unilateral voter registration, they could potentially flip that many seats only in California to avoid a medium-term loss.
Garcia was just one of five Republican incumbents who appeared vulnerable, and Democrats also thought they might prevail in one or two newly created districts that were short of incumbents. All five GOP congressmen who were attacked survived.
It’s entirely possible that after all the votes were counted, Republicans won a seat or two in California — a far cry from the gain Democrats were hoping to offset expected losses in other states.
So does that mean California is the deciding factor in the GOP takeover of the house? One could make that argument, but when the overall margin is so small – not really larger than the current Democratic majority – the results could be called crucial in many states.
A four-seat Republican victory in New York, where Democrats also have an overwhelming lead in voter registration, seems far more impressive than the status quo result in California.
However, by holding out in California, Republicans can legitimately claim a victory of sorts — especially in the face of a reallocation process that seemed to be shrinking their already small congressional delegation. Democrats, meanwhile, should be a little hurt that they couldn’t do better under favorable circumstances.
Dan Walters is a columnist at CalMatters.