Assemblywoman Christy Smith, OC Supervisor Michelle Steel and former Assemblywoman Young Kim were holding onto unsteady leads Wednesday in three of the closest Southland congressional races in recent memory.
California election officials reported 100% of the same-day vote had been counted Wednesday, but thousands of mail-in, provisional and conditional registration ballots were still uncounted. Mail-in ballots can be received and counted for as many as 17 days after the election, as long as they were postmarked by Election Day.
As of Wednesday morning, Orange County election officials said there were nearly 212,000 ballots still left to be tallied, along with an unknown number of mail ballots that haven’t arrived yet. Los Angeles County officials had not yet issued an estimate of remaining ballots.
Smith was clinging to a slim lead in her bid to unseat Mike Garcia in a rematch for the 25th Congressional District post. She had 50.5% of the vote, to Garcia’s 49.5%, or 131,218 votes to Garcia’s 128,462 votes.
Smith was hoping to avenge an earlier loss to the Republican Garcia and take back the seat for the Democratic Party.
It was technically the fourth time in nine months the duo faced off at the ballot box. In March, Smith and Garcia finished one-two in a special election to fill out the term of Rep. Katie Hill, who resigned following the online release of salacious photos and allegations of an extramarital affair with a staff member.
On that same ballot, Smith and Garcia also topped essentially the same field of candidates in a separate primary race to fill Hill’s seat for the next two years. In May, Smith and Garcia squared off in the runoff of the March special election to complete Hill’s original term, and Garcia emerged victorious and was sworn into Congress.
The winner in the current race will take over the seat for the next two years.
The 25th District stretches from the Antelope Valley into Ventura County. It was one of several Southland districts targeted by Republicans after sweeping losses the party suffered in 2018.
Smith was endorsed by many of the area’s biggest Democratic names and by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Her campaign website touted a variety of priority issues, led by improving public education, ending “corruption in Washington,” boosting support for first responders and ensuring access to affordable health care.
Garcia is a former Navy pilot who said he was inspired to vie for the post because Hill “did not represent our moderate district. I have the choice to stand on the sidelines and see what happens but that is not in my DNA. This is an extension of my desire to serve, this time to fight for my district.”
In the coastal 48th District of Orange County, incumbent Democrat Harley Rouda found himself narrowly trailing Steel, the chairwoman of the Orange County Board of Supervisors. Steel held 50.3% of the vote to Rouda’s 49.7%, or 169,179 votes to Rouda’s 167,229 votes.
Rouda had touted his achievements in Congress, insisting he can work across the aisle to reach consensus agreements. He said he wants to “continue our work to lower prescription drug costs, protect our coastline, and stand up to the insiders and special interests that run Washington.”
Steel said during her campaign that she was running to provide a “strong voice in Washington, D.C., who will honor promises made and stand up for us and our values.” She pointed to her work on the Board of Supervisors, saying she fought higher taxes while working to reduce traffic congestion and “ensuring our bays and coastlines are clean.”
Another Orange County congressional race being closely watched was Rep. Gil Cisneros’ battle with former Assemblywoman Young Kim in the 39th District, which also includes parts of Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties. The race became much closer as votes continued to be tallied, with the two candidates splitting the total nearly equally. Kim was leading with 50.2%, or 134,556 votes, to Cisneros’ 49.8%, or 133,263 votes.
The race is a rematch of 2018, when Cisneros defeated the former Rep. Ed Royce’s protege.
Two years ago, Kim was leading and even traveled to Washington, D.C., for orientation for newly elected congressional representatives, only to be overtaken by Cisneros in late-arriving ballots in a district that has residents in Orange, Los Angeles, and San Bernardino counties.
Another close race played out in the 34th Congressional District, representing a large chuck of central Los Angeles County. Incumbent Democrat Jimmy Gomez seemed to be fending off a strong challenge from fellow Democrat David Kim, who billed himself as a more progressive choice. Gomez had 52.6%, or 78,984 votes, to Kim’s 47.4%, or 71,042 votes.
In a closely watched race for the 45th Congressional District seat in Orange County, Democratic Rep. Katie Porter seemed headed to victory over Republican Greg Raths. Porter, an attorney and UC Irvine law professor, was challenged in the March primary by Raths and five other Republicans in a district that was long considered a safe conservative area but has seen a growing influx of Democrat voters.
Porter had 54.3% of the vote to Raths’ 45.7%, or 191,827 votes to 161,324 votes. The district covers an inland area between roughly Mission Viejo and Yorba Linda.
In the 49th congressional district straddling Orange and San Diego counties, Democratic Rep. Mike Levin appears bound for victory over Republican challenger Brian Maryott, with 54.7% (170,925 votes) to 45.3% (141,569 votes).
Levin issued a statement saying he was “incredibly grateful” to voters for sending him back to Congress.
“Over the past two years, I have worked across the aisle to improve the lives of the people I serve and deliver results on our local priorities. We have made a lot of bipartisan progress to clean up the Tijuana River Valley, protect our environment, and strengthen benefits for veterans, but there is much more work to do,” Levin said.
The congressman thanked his family and staff as well as his opponent.
“And I want to thank Councilmember Brian Maryott, whose dedication and passion for our district is admirable. While the outcome of the presidential election is not yet final, the unprecedented voter turnout we have seen across the country is a heartening victory for our democracy. Now, we must ensure that every single vote is counted and that we reject any effort to exclude ballots or stop counting votes prematurely.
“As we continue to count every vote and prepare for a peaceful transition of power, I encourage all Americans, regardless of their politics, to remain calm and patient. Ultimately, each of us must prepare for the hard work of uniting our country, controlling and crushing this virus, and working together to build an economy that works for everyone,” he added.