Some California districts are turning purple. How Republicans are adapting

Two tight races are happening in northern LA County. They feature different strategies from Republicans looking to win voters in a purple part of the state.

Democratic Assemblywoman Christy Smith is facing off against Republican Congressman Mike Garcia in California’s 25th Congressional District, which includes Santa Clarita and Simi Valley. This is for the seat vacated by Katie Hill, who resigned after a sexual harassment scandal. Garcia won the special election earlier this year by aligning himself with President Trump. He’s hoping more of the same will help him win a full term in the House. 

The other race is between Republican incumbent Scott Wilk and Democrat Kipp Mueller for California State Senate District 21, which covers Palmdale and Lancaster. Wilk is playing up his moderate approach to politics. He’s voted with Democrats on some big issues in Sacramento, like banning police chokeholds and supporting a ballot initiative to bring back affirmative action in California.

KCRW looks at how these two strategies are playing out on the ground. 

Guy Marzorati covers politics for KQED in the Bay Area. He says this year, Democrats are hoping for high voter turnout partly due to President Donald Trump’s declining popularity in California. 

According to a new UC Berkeley poll, Vice President Joe Biden has 65% of the vote in the 25th District, where Garcia is vying for a full-term in the House. 

Marzorati says Garcia has largely sided with President Trump, which might have helped him win during his initial bid for the seat. “What you've seen from Mike Garcia is an effort to get those voters to the polls and energize Trump supporters to carry him to a full term victory. Ever since he took office five months ago, he's really been aligned with the president.”

Moving forward, he says it might be tough for Garcia to win his reelection, due to the shifting demographics in northern LA County.

“People thought of the high desert as kind of a Republican stronghold, but you're seeing those communities diversify [and] more transplants from LA city,” Marzorati says. “It's become one of those purple districts in California that's just been heavily targeted by both parties.” 

Marzorati says the battle is different for the State Senate seat in the 21st District. That’s due to Wilk’s moderate and bipartisan approach. 

“He's led the pack in terms of sponsoring bills with Democrats. He's gotten high marks from groups you wouldn't expect, like Planned Parenthood and some labor groups,” he says. “Votes you wouldn’t typically expect the Republicans to take, I think we've seen Wilk take that line as a really moderate member of the caucus.”

Mueller, Wilk’s opponent, argues the region is diversifying and so a Democratic representative would better reflect that in the Legislature, according to Marzorati.   

“Moderate Republicans are the biggest targets. They often reside in these districts that are swing districts. And the Democratic party is not interested in seeing moderate Republicans stay in office. They look at them as fertile ground to pick up seats,” says Marzorati. 

— Written by Danielle Chiriguayo and Amy Ta, produced by Angie Perrin