News & Politics

These Are the 7 GOP-Held CA Assembly Seats That May Flip to Democrats This Year — Ranked by Flippability

Republicans are in trouble throughout the state.

Photo Credit: Daily Kos

Just about everyone in California politics knows it: there’s a Blue Wave coming. Regardless of what happens in elections elsewhere on November 6, 2018, the people of California are fed up with Trump and highly likely to elect Democrats in some historically Republican seats.

Many activists in California have focused on what Pod Save America calls the Crooked 7—the 7 congressional districts currently occupied by Republicans but whose voters chose Hillary over Trump. However, a bit further down ballot, even more state legislative districts in California both voted for Hillary and elected a Republican representative.

Earlier this year, I wrote an analysis of such districts in California’s State Assembly. Over the last few months, I’ve tracked fundraising data, volunteer enthusiasm, partisan voter registration figures, and primary election results for these districts. Based on this analysis, I believe there are 7 Assembly districts in California that stand a good chance at flipping in this year’s midterm elections—another “Crooked 7” districts for progressive activists to focus on, if you will!

More Democrats and fewer Republicans in the California state legislature makes it easier to pass progressive legislation that the state desperately needs, such as increased funding for affordable housing or access to healthcare to all. Additionally, defeating down-ballot Republicans can undermine the California Republican Party’s bench for future congressional elections. Since many of these districts overlap with swing congressional districts, their representation matters significantly. If you live in any of these districts, I strongly encourage that you get involved with these campaigns. 

To help you get involved, I’ve included information on how to donate and connect with the campaigns for the Democratic nominees in 6 of these districts (if you read to the end of this post, you’ll understand why I did not include such information for one district). I also have linked to the Facebook and Twitter accounts for their campaigns. If you like these candidates’ Facebook pages and follow them on Twitter, you can increase their visibility and their level of outreach. On Facebook, make sure to invite any friends who live in these districts to like the page of their respective candidates.

Of course, an easy way to help spread the word about these competitive districts is to share this blog post on social media. Daily Kos makes it easy to do so: click the “Share” and “Tweet” buttons at the top of this post (Note: the buttons do not appear for mobile users or mobile URLs, but you can still share this article by copying and pasting the URL to social media). If you tweet this post, you can help get the word out by adding a hashtag—I’d suggest #capol for California Politics or #Crooked7, a hashtag used by California Democrats to talk about the Crooked 7 congressional districts.

Without further ado, here are the 7 California Assembly districts, ranked in order of likeliness to flip, along with more information about the Democratic nominees and the state of the race for each district.

7. AD-16: Rebecca Bauer-Kahan

Region: East Bay suburbs of the San Francisco Bay Area—Dublin, Pleasanton, Livermore, San Ramon, Walnut Creek, Lafayette, Orinda, and everywhere in between.

Campaign Website: www.rebeccabauerkahan.com

Rebecca Bauer-Kahan is a lawyer on a mission to defeat a deeply entrenched Republican incumbent. This incumbent, Catharine Baker, hides behind the mask of being a “moderate.” In reality, Baker aligns with Trump on many issues, from the treatment of undocumented immigrants to opposing criminal justice reform to letting corporations off the hook on paying their fair share of taxes. Regrettably, Baker has won reelection by demonizing unions, which plays well to some folks in this decidedly upper-middle class, suburban district.

This election year, however, Bauer-Kahan has a path to victory. As voters in the Bay Area grow increasingly disenchanted with the Republican party, Baker’s ability to win cross-over voters diminishes. Baker did decently well in the June primary, taking 56.6% of the vote. However, the primary electorate in California is different from the electorate its general elections—especially in a Democratic wave election year. Considering nearly 2/3s of voters in this district chose Hillary over Trump, Baker’s cross-over appeal among Democratic voters may diminish in the general election.

6. AD-35: Bill Ostrander

Region: San Luis Obispo County, plus Santa Maria, Lompoc, and Guadalupe in Santa Barbara County.

Campaign Website: www.billostrander.org

Bill Ostrander offers a unique, refreshing candidacy. He is a campaign finance reform advocate who served as Director of the nonprofit Citizens Congress, which focuses on issues with money in politics at the local and national level. Previously, he has worked in Hollywood, in construction, and as a farmer.

His candidacy stands in striking contrast to his opponent, incumbent Jordan Cunningham, a career politician who takes money from special interests in Sacramento. In addition to taking money from the financial services, bail bond, and oil and gas companies, he has refused to agree to spending limit for his race—a sign that he plans to win by spending lots of money.

This district only barely voted for Hillary, as she took 49.6% of the vote. However, in the June 5th primary this year, Ostrander’s underfunded campaign significantly overperformed expectations, taking almost 45% of the vote. This district is 35% Hispanic, and because California primaries typically having low participation rates from non-white voters, Ostrander has a clear (but still challenging) path to reaching the 50% mark in November. If Ostrander can boost minority turnout and win over enough coastal liberals, he may close the gap enough and flip this district.

5. AD-77: Sunday Gover

Region: San Diego suburbs (including Clairemont, Scripps Ranch, Mira Mesa, Kearny Mesa, and Carmel Valley, Rancho Bernardo and many other neighborhoods in between) plus Rancho Santa Fe, Fairbanks Ranch, and Poway.

Campaign Website: www.votesunday.com

On paper, her odds may seem long. But in reality, Sunday Gover offers a clear opportunity to flip this longtime Republican-held seat in the suburbs of San Diego.

Sunday Gover is a small business owner, a public school mom, and a lifelong San Diegan. She and her wife also have strong ties to the local LGBT community. Given the district’s socially liberal but fiscally conservative attitudes, she has the right background to win over independent voters and pull off a victory.

The incumbent is Brian Maienschein, a former member of the San Diego City Council. Much like Catharine Baker in AD-16, Maienschein has marketed himself as a “moderate” Republican despite actually being quite conservative. Even though this district voted for Hillary Clinton over Trump by an astounding 55% to 39%, Maienschein won reelection in 2016 by just as large a margin, 57% to 42%.

In the June 5th primary this year, Sunday Gover took 43.9% to Brian Maienschein’s 56.1%. However, in the 2014 midterm election cycle, the electorate became 10% more Democratic between the primary and the general election—and that was in a Republican wave year! Such a drastic partisan shift may result from low turnout in primaries from the district’s large Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities, which account for approximately 25% of voters in this district. If a similar partisan shift between the primary and general election happened this year, it would put the race in close to a dead heat, 49% to 51%!

4. AD-38: Christy Smith

Region: Santa Clarita, Simi Valley, and the Porter Ranch neighborhood of Los Angeles.

Campaign Website: christysmithforassembly.com

This race is a pure tossup, but the winds are blowing at Christy Smith’s back, pushing her toward victory.

Smith ran for this seat in 2016 and lost by a very close 11,000 votes, 47% to 53%, to the now-incumbent Dante Acotsa. This cycle, however, she’s stepped up her game and getting a lot of outside help in the form of more volunteers, more grassroots donations, and more activist interest overall.

AD-38 is largely contained within the 25th congressional district, one of the most competitive congressional races in this election cycle. In that race, Democratic Nominee Katie Hill has raised millions of dollars and invested it in turnout and voter outreach. The two have already joined up and hosted Get Out The Vote events together.

Christy Smith is also ideally suited for this district and brings a lot of experience to the table on a particularly important issue for California: education. After she graduated from high school and college in Santa Clarita, she worked as an analyst at the U.S. Department of Education. Eventually, she moved back to Santa Clarita and settled down, where she has now lived for 36 years. In 2009, after being heavily active in her local PTA, she was elected as a member of the school board for the Newhall School District, her initial entry into politics.

This rematch is almost certain to end up closer than 2016. Both Christy Smith and Acosta have raised plenty of money to keep this race competitive through November. In the June 5th primary, Smith earned a greater percentage of the vote than she did in the 2016 primaries, suggesting she’ll do even better this Fall. Additionally, since November 2016 elections, AD-38 has seen an increase in the percentage of registered Democratic voters as well as a decrease in registered Republican voters. The district is on track to have more Democratic voters than Republican voters for the first time ever.

3. AD-74: Cottie Petrie-Norris

Region: Coastal Orange County — Costa Mesa, Huntington Beach, Irvine, Laguna Beach, Laguna Woods, and Newport Beach.

Campaign Website: votecottie.com

In my previous write-up about California’s Assembly races, I pegged AD-74 as a “race to watch." Well, we watched in the June 5th primary, and boy, did Democrats shine!

In the primary, Democrats took a combined 47.4% of the vote—WAY higher than any past election cycle—while Republicans took 52.6%. Additionally, the Republican incumbent Matthew Harper barely reached 40% because a Republican challenger took away a chunk of the Republican vote. That suggests local Republican activists may not be so eager to help Harper get reelected.

It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Harper get caught flat-footed this November. This district didn’t even have a Democratic candidate in 2014, when Harper initially took office. Throughout his career, Harper has never faced a serious challenge from a Democratic candidate and, instead, has had to battle against Republican primary challengers, usually ones who tried to run even further to the right of the decidedly conservative Harper.

Now, Harper will face his first serious, well-funded Democratic opponent in Cottie Petrie-Norris. Cottie is a real estate agent and business leader active in Laguna Beach. She has experience in local Democratic party politics and currently serves on the Housing and Human Services Committee for her city.

Cottie Petrie-Norris has earned the endorsements of many local elected officials and, as of June 30th, 2018, has raised plenty of money for an effective State Assembly campaign. In fact, during the first 6 months of 2018, she outraised Matt Harper by a margin of 3 to 1--$183,942 compared to Harper’s $69,045.

Because this district coincides with two Orange County swing congressional districts, there will be a major investment from outside groups in voter turnout here. For Cottie Petrie-Norris to win, she likely needs to build up her name recognition among voters in the Huntington Beach area, which she should be able to do. This race will be close, but if I had to make a bet on one of these two candidates, I would bet my money on Cottie

2. AD-40: James Ramos

Region: San Bernardino County — Highland, Loma Linda, Redlands, as well as most of both Rancho Cucamonga and the city of San Bernardino.

Campaign Website: www.jamesramos.org

The 40th assembly district is in San Bernardino County and includes Highland, Loma Linda, Redlands, as well as most of both Rancho Cucamonga and the city of San Bernardino.

James Ramos is a current member of the San Bernardino Board of Supervisors. He has a high profile and a campaign flush with cash. 54% of voters here chose Hillary Clinton in the 2016 elections, and a similar percentage voted for a Democrat in the primary this year. The district was also an open seat, as the Republican incumbent opted to run for a local office, likely because he knew he’d lose to James Ramos. Given these factors as well as the district’s significant Hispanic population, we can say with reasonable confidence that, barring a Democratic scandal or gazillions in outside spending to help the Republican candidate, this district will flip from Republican to Democratic representation this November.

1. AD-76: Tasha Boerner Horvath and Elizabeth Warren

Region: Northern Coastal San Diego County—Carlsbad, Oceanside, Vista, Encinitas, and Camp Pendleton.

On June 5th, something remarkable happened in this district. Two Democratic candidates took 1st and 2nd places in the primary, accumulating about 51% of the overall vote. Because of California’s top-two primary system, both of these candidates will advance to general election in November.

In other words, we’ve already flipped this seat from Republican to Democratic!

The seat was previously occupied by Rocky Chavez, a Republican from Oceanside who had rarely faced Democratic opposition. He chose to give up his seat and run for the open 49th Congressional district, a race in which he lost. 6 different Republicans chose to run to replace him. However, Boerner Horvath and Warren were the only 2 Democrats to run, and each catered to decidedly different bases of support. As a result, they split the Democratic vote total about evenly, while the Republican vote total fractured hap hazardously.

While this outcome does benefit Democrats, it serves as a reminder that California’s top 2 primary system is decidedly undemocratic and must be changed. Considering how well Democrats performed here in the primary (taking a cumulative 51.3% of the vote), we probably would have flipped this seat anyway. And it’s important for voters to feel as though they genuinely have a say in these elections. General elections in which voters choose between two candidates of the same party does not create that feeling, especially when that district had almost 49% of its voters choose a Republican candidate.

However, considering San Diego County Republicans helped push the top two system onto the state and are partially responsible for its existence, we can only offer the 6 losing Republican primary candidates crocodile tears.

Don't let big tech control what news you see. Get more stories like this in your inbox, every day.