California has a new congressional map, and the lines bolster Democrats’ uphill quest to maintain their minuscule House majority.
Final maps approved late Monday by the state’s independent redistricting commission create more challenging districts for Republican incumbents without substantially undermining the prospects of vulnerable Democrats. While Democrats are poised to absorb California’s overall loss of a House seat due to declining population, the emerging map could point to Democrats holding ground or picking up seats.
“This is the high end of what was a probable outcome for Democrats,” said Paul Mitchell, a political data analyst and owner of the firm Redistricting Partners. “This was definitely a good outcome for Democrats. Republicans have 11 current members — in these maps they should only be sending nine back to Congress in 2022.”
Unlike in other states where legislatures draw new lines, California has a redistricting commission composed of five Democrats, five Republicans and four independents. But a redistricting-focused arm of the Republican Party decried the new boundaries as stacked in Democrats’ favor and suggested the commission was taking sides.
“California’s ‘independent’ redistricting commission is producing wildly contorted congressional lines that rival the extreme gerrymanders in Illinois and Maryland,” National Republican Redistricting Trust Executive Director Adam Kincaid said in a statement. “These new draft maps ignore California’s communities in a desperate attempt to try to save Nancy Pelosi’s majority.”
Despite California’s overwhelmingly Democratic electorate, the state will be a hub of midterm activity because it includes several seats that have flipped back and forth in recent cycles. In 2020, Republicans reclaimed four of the seven House seats that Democrats shifted to their column in 2018.
Multiple Republican incumbents could have tougher paths to defending those seats as their districts shift to the left, including Reps. Mike Garcia, David Valadao and Michelle Steel. The changes could be particularly challenging for Garcia, who won by just over 300 votes in one of 2020’s closest contests, and Valadao, a moderate Republican who has long defied the registration odds in his majority-Democratic Central Valley seat.
Democratic Rep. Katie Porter’s Orange County seat gets slightly friendlier in a boost to the rising progressive star and prolific fundraiser. Second-term Democratic Rep. Mike Levin was boosted by last-minute changes to his San Diego area district that prevented it from shifting markedly to the right.
Republican Rep. Devin Nunes’ seat is set to become much more Democratic — an outcome predicted in draft maps that dropped shortly before Nunes announced he would resign to run former President Donald Trump’s media operation. While Democratic Rep. Josh Harder’s current post would become more challenging, political observers anticipate Harder shifting to a newly created and friendlier seat.
Two long-serving House Republicans, Reps. Ken Calvert and Tom McClintock, could see their seats become more challenging, although not necessarily enough to push them into battleground territory.
Possible Democratic gains could be offset by the state losing a House seat due to stagnant population growth. Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard and Alan Lowenthal were drawn into a single shared seat in southern Los Angeles County, and both have announced they will retire rather than seek reelection. It is likely a Democrat will fill the new seat, which is based in Long Beach.
“The big challenge for Democrats this cycle was going to be that the loss of a seat was almost assuredly going to come from a Democratic area,” Mitchell said.
Maps governing the state legislature, which were also approved Monday, are likely to preserve Democrats’ overwhelming majority, which for years has exceeded the two-thirds supermajority threshold. But they will also spur incumbent-on-incumbent clashes because numerous members are drawn into the same areas and state legislators, unlike House members, must live in their districts.
The only remaining step in enacting the new map is for the commission to send it to the secretary of state’s office, which must happen by Dec. 27. The filing deadline for candidates to run in the state’s June 7 top-two, all-party primary is March 11.