With California’s new maps recently being finalized by its redistricting commission, Split Ticket takes a look at the congressional districts that have been rated as competitive in 2022 by either us or the Cook Political Report.
As a reminder, a “tossup” rating means a competitive race with no clear advantage to either side at the moment, a “lean” rating means a competitive race in which one side is clearly favored, a “likely” rating indicates a currently uncompetitive race that has the potential to become competitive, and a “safe” rating indicates a race that we feel is not and almost certainly will not become competitive.
Map by Leon Sit (@politicsmaps) – shading reflects 2020 presidential margin and not Split Ticket seat ratings.
Republican Tom McClintock is unlikely to seek election to this seat, with the safer bet being a pivot to the much redder 5th Congressional District. In his place, state representative Kevin Kiley is almost certain to run here. Trump won this district by just under two points, but the close topline can be a bit misleading – Democrats do not have many strong candidates in this area, and getting any of them to run in what is likely to be a far less friendly year to the party as a whole will be a serious undertaking. Additionally, while the district is trending left rapidly, with Biden improving on Clinton’s margins by 6 points, the GOP still enjoys a healthy edge in registered voters in this district, as per numbers pulled from the state database by Twitter user @AveryTheComrade.
While the large number of Biden voters in this district do provide a lane for the Democrats in an open race, it is unlikely that this seat flips in 2022 barring a scandal or an unexpectedly strong challenger emerging. We rate this as LIKELY REPUBLICAN.
Josh Harder is about as good of an incumbent as Democrats can hope for, defeating incumbent Jeff Denham by 5 in 2018 and outrunning Biden in 2020 by a whopping 8 points en-route to a resounding 11-point win. That said, it’s likely that a good deal of that 2020 overperformance was due to the extremely problematic nominee on the Republican side, with Ted Howze’s Facebook posts landing him in extreme hot water and pulling what could have been a competitive race entirely off the board. Republicans will be hoping to find a better nominee than this in 2022, and although none have emerged yet, there is still a good amount of time to go until the nomination.
It’s worth noting that Harder’s district is significantly friendlier downballot to Democrats. Per figures pulled by Avery, it has a fairly significant voter registration edge in the favor of Democrats, and while the latter is often a lagging indicator of partisanship, there’s no real evidence to suggest Harder’s district is swinging strongly to the right. Clinton won the seat by 12.5, Newsom by ~5, and Biden by ~11, and the district voted against the recall by mid-single digits. While the seat is by no means safe for either side, Harder probably begins as favored, and we rate this seat as LEAN DEMOCRATIC to begin with.
After losing his seat to Democratic challenger TJ Cox in 2018, David Valadao won the 2020 rematch by a razor-thin margin in a double-digit Biden seat, and like the other California Republicans, he’ll have incumbency and a redder national environment boosting his odds in his next election. However, his 2022 race is likely to still be competitive, as his district goes from Biden +10.9 to Biden +12.9 by presidential vote.
There are some serious warning signs for Democrats here, though, and they’ll be banking on their nominee to offset them. This district has rapidly trended right and may have even narrowly supported recall, thanks in part to the continued swing right of Hispanic voters. However, Democrats will have a far stronger nominee than TJ Cox to run against Valadao in Assemblymember Rudy Salas, and they will be hoping that he claws back some of the ground lost with this key demographic.
There is some evidence indicating this is possible; Salas won his heavily-Hispanic state Assembly seat by 20 points, even as Biden won it by ~12, and an overperformance like this in 2022 in the Congressional election would probably make Democrats the favorites to hold the seat.Valadao is a very good incumbent for the GOP and has a history of racking up high amounts of crossover votes; in 2016, he won by 13 even while Clinton carried his district by 16. However, the district’s strong blue tilt and the candidate strength on the Democratic side push us towards a TOSSUP rating. Incumbency will help Valadao, but this is a race in which either party can easily be seen winning come November 2022.
After winning a special election against Christy Smith to replace the resigning Katie Hill in May 2020, Mike Garcia then won their November rematch by just over 300 votes. However, although the Republican will likely have an incumbency boost and a redder national environment working in his favor, the new iteration of this district has also gotten significantly friendlier at all levels towards Democrats via the removal of Simi Valley, which had carried Garcia to victory in the last election by virtue of his 5.7K vote margin in the Ventura County portion of the district – if the 2020 election was conducted under these new lines, Smith almost certainly wins.
While the old CA-25 voted for Biden by just a shade over 10 points and gave Governor Gavin Newsom a thin 2.3% margin in 2018, the new district is a good bit bluer at all levels, having backed Biden by 12 and Newsom by 5.2 while voting for Congressional Democrats by a 6-point margin in 2020. With a third-time rematch between Mike Garcia and Christy Smith looming in a seat that saw its share of white voters further fall from 40% to 37%, Democrats have a rare pickup opportunity in what is likely to be a Republican-leaning 2022.
We rate this as a TOSSUP — Garcia had a strong 2020 performance and enters with the wind at his back from incumbency and a Republican-leaning environment, but the parts of the district that fueled his prior victories have been cut away and replaced with bluer turf, and Democrats will fancy their chances against him.
Although Gil Cisneros defeated Young Kim in the race to succeed retiring Republican Ed Royce in the 39th Congressional District, he was defeated in their 2020 rematch by just over 4,000 votes, with Kim carrying the plurality-Asian district by just over a point, even while Biden won it by 10.
This rapidly left-trending new district (numbered the 40th in the reshuffle) still backed Biden, but it is far redder than its previous iteration, with the president carrying the seat by just under two points. In an indication of its ancestrally Republican nature, this district voted for Trump in 2016 and gave Republican gubernatorial candidate John Cox a resounding 11.6 point margin in 2018 even as Gavin Newsom won by 24 statewide. Although this delta has narrowed significantly of late, calculations from Leon Sit (@politicsmaps) show that the district still voted in favor of the 2021 recall against Gavin Newsom by approximately 5 points, and for the purposes of 2022, it should be viewed as a Republican-leaning seat. The area may now be light blue presidentially, but when it comes to down-ballot races, it is still more Republican than not.
Map of the 2021 Recall in the new CA-47. Made by Leon Sit (@politicsmaps)
Sit’s recall election’s map is particularly interesting to examine, because it shows that Democrats don’t truly have a strong base in this district. Their strength is distributed more evenly across the seat, as one may expect from a former Republican sink that has shifted left by 20 points across the decade. Consequently, a Democratic win strategy here would have to be centered heavily on persuasion rather than base turnout efforts, especially in a district full of high-propensity, educated whites like this one. However, running an incumbent Republican congresswoman like Kim in a district like this might make that task especially difficult for 2022.
That brings us to the candidate aspect of this race. Sources Split Ticket has spoken to understand that the current plan is likely to see Young Kim run in the 40th, with Michelle Steel taking the bluer, plurality-Asian 45th and Navy veteran Shawn Collins challenging Katie Porter in the 47th. While nothing is set in stone, we currently assume Kim will likely run in this seat and have counted her as the incumbent as such. On the Democratic side, no major challengers have emerged, and it is unclear as to whether any will, given the strong headwinds any of them would face in this race.
With the rapid convergence of presidential and down-ballot voting patterns and the manner in which this district is racing to the left, it is possible that this seat could become a serious target for Democrats later on in the decade. However, in a midterm election that is already likely to be Republican-leaning overall, Kim’s incumbency advantage and her ability to pull sizable amounts of crossover votes from otherwise Democratic-leaning Asian voters make her the clear favorite, and make a flip here very unlikely. The district begins as LIKELY REPUBLICAN; a Democratic victory here, while not impossible, would be quite surprising.
Though Ken Calvert’s seat got significantly bluer in redistricting, going from Trump +7.4 to Trump +1, the district remains extremely friendly down-ballot to the GOP; it very likely backed the recall attempt against Gavin Newsom by double digits even as the measure failed by 24 points statewide. With a strong Republican incumbent in Calvert and no obvious challenger, California Democrats are unlikely to find much comfort in this district. We currently do not see this race becoming competitive, and we rate it as SAFE REPUBLICAN.
Having unseated incumbent Harley Rouda in California’s 48th even while Biden carried the district, Michelle Steel comes into 2022 in this plurality Asian district buoyed by both incumbency and an environment that is likely to be significantly more Republican than 2020. This district’s areas saw a significant swing right from 2016 to 2020, as Clinton carried it by nearly 14 while Biden carried it by just over 6, as the Vietnamese, Korean, and Hispanic communities all seemed to swing somewhat hard against Democrats.
That picture might be worrying for Democrats, but there is reason for them to have hope here too. While Newsom won this district by just under a point in 2018, calculations from Leon Sit show that the 2021 recall against him failed in this district by ~6 points despite Newsom garnering the same statewide vote share as he did in 2018 – 61.9%.
Map of the 2021 Recall in the new CA-45. Made by Leon Sit (@politicsmaps)
A look at Sit’s map of the recall election in the district shows that the No vote was fueled by strong margins in areas like Garden Grove with Asian voters, who swung left from 2020. If this holds in 2022, it will make their goal of flipping this seat far more attainable and the fact that the district shifted left relative to the state since 2020 is another important factor in assessing the 2022 picture. Both sides have plenty of room for hope here, and given that the district comfortably voted both for Biden and against the recall by similar margins, the matchup may well come down to the candidates and the campaigns run.
On the Republican side, the nominee will likely be Steel (as discussed earlier in the preview), barring an unexpected seat reshuffle among the incumbents. On the Democratic side, military veteran Jay Chen has announced, and state senator Josh Newman and former AD-72 nominee Diedre Nguyen could both enter the primary. In this race, Democrats may want to pick a nominee with appeal to Asian voters, as they are comprising an ever-increasing share of this area.
If Asian voters continue to stick with the Democratic Party and the vote trends observed between 2020 and 2021 hold, this district could easily be blue enough to make it an R-to-D flip target, even in a Republican-leaning year. But if the environment worsens for Democrats or if Steel’s strength with Asian voters continues to hold, Republicans will likely retain the seat. With fairly plausible lanes for either side, we rate it as a TOSSUP.
With redistricting splitting her Irvine residence from the rest of her district, Katie Porter announced a move to the 47th district in 2022, and in a seat where the partisanship is nearly identical to that of her old district at Biden +11, it is reasonable to assume that she’ll begin as favored in this race once again. This area has moved left somewhat rapidly; after backing Romney by a healthy margin in 2012, this seat voted for Hillary Clinton by ~7 and Biden by ~11, and Gavin Newsom carried it by 3.5 in the 2021 recall (as calculated by Leon Sit), which was about half a point better than he did in 2018 despite winning statewide by an identical margin.
Map of the 2021 Recall in the new CA-47. Made by Leon Sit (@politicsmaps)
Sit’s map of the 2021 recall in this district is instructive in helping us break down the relative strengths of each party and understanding what the 2022 results will look like. The inland areas of the seat, such as Irvine, serve as the base for Democrats, while the coastal areas of Huntington and Newport Beach act as the Republican strongholds. A Republican win in 2022 will likely be anchored by a strong performance along the coast, though they will doubtless still hope to revert some of the 2021 gains that California Democrats made with Asian voters in areas like Irvine.
Pivoting to the candidate field, former Congressman Harley Rouda has made some noise about primarying Porter in this seat to return to Washington. However, despite the significant overlap this district has with Rouda’s old 39th district, Katie Porter would still begin as the clear favorite, thanks to her incumbency and her significant fundraising edge. California’s top-two jungle primary system complicates the picture here, but we see it as more likely that Republicans could accidentally find themselves locked out than the Democrats; two strong Democratic candidates could easily finish as the top two in the primary, especially if Republicans split their field among more than two candidates. On the Republican side, Navy veteran Shawn Collins has announced his intent to challenge Katie Porter, and Split Ticket understands that he is currently likely to run against her in the 47th.
With Porter as the probable nominee, it’s likely that this ancestrally Republican area continues to trend left relative to the state, and her immense fundraising strength and strong name ID make her the clear initial favorite to win the new district in 2022. That said, she will likely face a well-funded Republican challenger, and should the environment become as Republican as the ones in 2010 or 2014, her seat could be a prime blue-to-red target flip. She begins, however, as the favorite, and we rate this race LEAN DEMOCRATIC.
Mike Levin rode the blue wave of 2018 into Congress by winning the seat of then-retiring Republican Darrell Issa by ~13 points. However, Levin underperformed significantly in 2020, winning by only 6.2 against his challenger despite having incumbency as an advantage to pair with Biden’s 12.7 point win in the previous version of the 49th district. Some of this certainly has to do with the far smaller down-ballot Democratic lean in the ancestrally Republican area – had the new version of this district been around in 2012, Romney would have carried it by a decent margin.
That said, this area has raced to the left since then, having backed Clinton by 5.7 and Biden by 11.4, and Levin now enters 2022 as a well-funded incumbent in a district that largely matches his partisanship and voting record. While the California GOP will likely look at the further incorporation of southern Orange County with some interest, Levin begins as favored in 2020 thanks to the combination of incumbency and the partisan lean of the district. The race begins at LEAN DEMOCRATIC – Levin is clearly favored, but a year that will be significantly less friendly to Democrats than 2020 was should mean the race stays competitive, with a clear lane for Republicans to possibly pull off an underdog win.
Editor note: This article would not be possible without the help of Leon Sit (@politicsmaps) and Avery (@AveryTheComrade), both of whom contributed immensely to the piece through editing, maps, and calculations for electoral numbers for the new districts.
I’m a software engineer and a computer scientist (UC Berkeley class of 2019 BA, class of 2020 MS) who has an interest in machine learning, politics, and electoral data. I’m a partner at Split Ticket, handle our Senate races, and make many kinds of electoral models.
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