A ‘Blue Wave’ Threatens GOP’s 35-Year Hold On CA-45
By Ghael Fobes – Syracuse, N.Y. (CitrusTV) – In 2014, she pummeled her Democratic opponent by a 30-point margin. In 2016, she cruised to reelection by over 17-points. Yet this year, like many other GOP incumbents up for reelection in the House, California Congresswoman Mimi Walters finds herself in an unfamiliar position: down in the polls.
Ms. Walters trails former consumer protection attorney and UC Irving law professor, Katie Porter in FiveThirtyEight’s House forecast. Polls say the congresswoman a 41.2% chance of winning her third bid to represent California’s 45th District. In the most recent poll, conducted by Tulchin Research, Ms. Porter held a 3-point edge but a Walters victory is well within the 4.38 margin error. Independent elections forecasters, Cook Political Report and Sabato’s Crystal Ball consider the race a “toss-up”, while Inside Elections rates the race as “lean Republican.”
California’s 45th District which lies inside Orange County, a birthplace of modern conservatism, is a 35-year GOP stronghold that has only ever elected Republicans to the House. This year’s close matchup is a promising sign for Democrats, who need to flip at least 23 seats to reclaim the House majority. Of the 23 Republican-held congressional districts that voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, 7 are in California.
With increasing odds of a Democratic takeover in the lower Capitol chamber, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), an organization built to bankroll GOP House candidates, has had to prioritize their resources on only the most crucial races toward maintaining control. The Los Angeles Times reports that Ms. Walters’ campaign is among several races that the NRCC has stopped backing. Pushing back on the assertion that her reelection bid is not worth investing in, a campaign spokesman for Ms. Walters points to the congresswoman’s personal fundraising advantage over Ms. Porter, of $2.9 million to $2.1 million.
Yet fundraising tells only a portion of the story, with both candidates spending heavily to frame the conversation for the general election.
For Ms. Porter, the congresswoman’s votes to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act are among Ms. Walters’ disqualifiers and provided the impetus behind her campaign to unseat her. Capitalizing on the conventional wisdom that midterms serve as referendums on the Chief Executive, Ms. Porter’s objective is to tie Ms. Walters closely to President Trump, while proving that she’ll provide a check on the Executive Branch.
While some might expect a Democrat running in a historically red district to run middle-of-the-road on policy, Ms. Porter’s platform suggests that she is considerably left-of-center. She supports a “Medicare-for-All” program, a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and paid-family leave. She also calls for end to Citizens United and an assault weapons ban, and backs mandatory background checks on all gun sales.
However, Ms. Porter has yet to indicate whether or not she would endorse Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi’s bid to remain on as the head of the House Democratic Caucus––a pledge that many insurgent candidates made with their constituents.
Ms. Walter, however, is following a similar playbook to the one many vulnerable Republican incumbents are using in this election: focus on the growing economy and highlight judicial appointments.
“The GOP base strategy is to focus on the tax cuts and the Supreme Court. If [Republicans] can confirm a second justice before the midterms, then the argument to their voters is that [they] reduced taxes and changed the federal court for a generation so vote to reward us and help us protect those gains,” explained Dr. Christopher Faricy, an associate professor of political science at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University.
Finding the proper audience for that message is key. One demographic advantage for conservatives that Dr. Faricy points to is that “midterm voters tend to be older and white and therefore more likely to vote Republican.” For Ms. Walters, that assumption is crucial to fend-off the likely wave of energized Democratic turnout.
As for some of the headwinds the Republicans are facing, Dr. Faricy points to a historical trend-line that suggests that “the party of the president usually loses seats in the midterm.” And with a historically unpopular President Trump, that pattern portends some difficult elections ahead.
Another worry for Republicans is in the president’s affinity for going off-script. Some party strategist argue that Mr. Trump’s bluster distracts and prevents candidates, like Ms. Walters, from honing their message of economic growth.
With fewer than 50 days before election day, the open question is if the GOP’s message will breakthrough through the noise and resonate with Ms. Walter’s core constituents. With so many political cross-currents accurately forecasting this race may prove difficult.
One person we know for certain that won’t voting for the congresswoman––herself. Ms. Walters lives just outside of her district in CA-48, something that she has in common with her congressman, Dan Rohrabacher. Rohrabacher is another incumbent Republican in an increasingly tight spot.