Mike Garcia
Mike Garcia. Campaign photo

Despite initially hesitating as vote-counting continued, Republican aerospace executive Mike Garcia — possibly spurred on by President Donald Trump — 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.”

Garcia’s victory marks 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.

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.

Smith, who said Tuesday night it was too early to call the race, reversed course Wednesday afternoon, conceding defeat.

“While it’s critical that we ensure every vote is counted and recorded, we believe that the current tally shows Mike Garcia is the likely victor in the May 12th special election,” Smith said in a statement. “As such, I’d like to congratulate him.”

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.

At stake in Tuesday’s election was the right to 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.

Smith said she looks forward “to having a vigorous debate about the issues in the upcoming November 2020 election, from health care access to job creation, aid for working families, investments in local classrooms to wildfire protection, women’s rights and more, in the months ahead.”

She added that “there is no doubt in my mind that together, we will prevail in the fall general election.”

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 proclaiming victory just hours later.

“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.”

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.

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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