Despite initially hesitating as vote-counting continues, Republican aerospace executive Mike Garcia — possibly spurred on by President Donald Trump — effectively declared victory Wednesday in a special election to fill the congressional seat vacated by Democrat Katie Hill.
“After seeing more results last night, it is clear that our message of lower taxes and ensuring we don’t take liberal Sacramento dysfunction to Washington prevailed,” Garcia said in a statement Wednesday morning. “I’m ready to go to work right away for the citizens of the 25th Congressional District.”
As of Wednesday morning, semi-official results from Tuesday’s election showed Garcia with 56% of the vote, while Democratic Assemblywoman Christy Smith had 44%. In actual numbers, Garcia has 80,337 votes to 62,998 for Smith.
It remained unclear how many votes in the primarily mail-in election still need to be counted. Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk Dean Logan’s office stated there are “still many outstanding ballots to be counted.” Logan’s office noted Tuesday night that 103,620 vote-by-mail ballots had been tallied, out of 361,472 that were mailed to voters. A mail-in ballot was sent to every voter in the district, which also stretches into Ventura County.
Vote-by-mail ballots that were received at in-person voting sites and drop-boxes in Ventura County will begin to be counted Wednesday, with the first update set to be released at 4 p.m., according to the Ventura County Clerk-Recorder, Registrar of Voters Mark A. Lunn.
Logan said the next Los Angeles County vote-counting update would be released Friday.
With the uncertainty surrounding the number of outstanding ballots, Garcia on Tuesday night fell short of declaring victory, instead expressing confidence and thanking his supporters.
But early Wednesday morning, Trump weighed in on Twitter, proclaiming Garcia the victor.
“Big Congressional win in California for Mike Garcia, taking back a seat from the Democrats. This is the first time in many years that a California Dem seat has flipped back to a Republican,” Trump wrote.
Garcia issued his updated statement just hours later, saying he had “prevailed.”
“For too long, the people of our district have not had representation, and it’s time their voice is heard in Washington,” Garcia said. “These are difficult times, and too much is at stake — our small businesses, our workers and our families need all the help they can get.”
If Garcia wins, it would be the first time a Republican has won a congressional seat in California that had been held by a Democrat since 1998 when then-Assemblyman Steve Kuykendall defeated Janice Hahn to win the South Bay seat vacated by Jane Harman to unsuccessfully run for governor. Harman defeated Kuykendall in 2000.
Smith has yet to concede the race. She issued a statement Tuesday night saying she was “extremely grateful for the support our campaign has received from every corner of this district.”
“The outcome of this race remains too early to call,” Smith said. “With so much at stake in this election for families across the district, from access to quality health care to putting the needs of the middle class at the center of future economic relief packages passed in Congress, it is critical that every ballot cast is counted and the voice of every CA-25 voter is heard.
“Tomorrow (Wednesday) I will return to the state Assembly to continue to fight for vital resources for California families. I would like to thank the dedicated volunteers who have served as the heart of this campaign and look forward to seeing a thorough counting of the remaining ballots.”
There were nine vote centers open Tuesday, seven in Los Angeles County. There were 11 vote centers open in the days leading up to the election, 10 in Los Angeles County. There were also 22 24-hour drop boxes in Los Angeles County to deposit ballots.
Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order March 20 requiring that all voters in the district receive a vote-by-mail ballot in an effort to protect public health and safety during the coronavirus outbreak.
Smith, D-Santa Clarita, was trying to become the second consecutive Democrat to win what had been a seat long held by Republicans until Hill’s 2018 victory over then-Rep. Steve Knight.
Smith finished first in the March 3 primary with 36.2% of the vote while Garcia was second with 25.4%. Knight finished third with 17.2%.
Garcia is a graduate of Saugus High School and the U.S. Naval Academy. He was a Navy fighter pilot during the Iraq War and became an executive with the aerospace firm Raytheon Co.
Garcia announced his candidacy on April 10, 2019, slightly more than two months after Hill took office. He said his experience in the aerospace industry “along with my military credentials makes me uniquely qualified to tackle the national security issues this nation is facing.”
Smith, who will turn 51 on Friday, was elected to the Assembly in 2018 after serving two terms on the governing board of the Newhall School District. She began her career in public service as analyst with the U.S. Department of Education. She has lived in Santa Clarita for 39 years, graduating from Hart High School, then attending College of the Canyons and receiving a bachelor’s degree from UCLA.
Both candidates had presidential support. Trump tweeted his endorsement of Garcia April 20, tweeting that he “will be a tremendous fighter for the U.S. and the State of California.” Former President Barack Obama recorded a robocall on Smith’s behalf.
The 25th Congressional District includes the Santa Clarita Valley, and portions of the northern San Fernando Valley, Antelope Valley and eastern Ventura County.
The winner of Tuesday’s election will serve out the remaining seven-plus months of Hill’s term. Garcia and Smith will square off again in the November election for the chance to serve a full two-year term.
Hill announced her resignation Oct. 27 and it became effective Nov. 3, following the release of salacious photos online and allegations of an extramarital affair with a staff member.
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