2018 California Congressional Primary Election Update

June 6, 2018
Adam Lotspike

As results from yesterday’s California Primary Elections continue trickling in, CLSA’s federal government relations team would like to share a brief update on some anticipated changes in the makeup of our California delegation for the 116th Congress, and offer additional details on several key California congressional races you may be interested in.

Of note, recall that California has what is referred to as a “jungle primary” – that is, the top two candidates with the highest number of votes in the Primary Election, regardless of party affiliation, face-off in the General Election in November.  This cycle, there were 2 open seats (previously held by Republicans) and 5 other races against Republican incumbents with multiple candidates vying for the seat – in those races, there was a strong possibility that Democratic votes would be split amongst multiple candidates, and could have seen General Election races with NO Democratic challenger on the ballot.  Spoiler alert: although there were a few close calls and still a few undecided races, it appears at this time that all competitive House races will have a Democratic and Republican in the General in November. However, Democratic incumbent Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s challenger is still too close to call, with a Democratic challenger currently in the lead; this is likely to mean that Republicans will be entirely shut out to compete for a Senate seat in November.

Details on key races for federal office are below:

US Senate: Sen. Diane Feinstein (D) – The U.S. Senate race could feature two Democrats, with no Republican candidate on the ballot. Incumbent 7th term Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein easily secured her place on the General Election ballot with 43.8% of the vote.  As of press time, former State Senate Pro Tempore Kevin De Leon (D) is clinging to a roughly 2-point lead over Republican candidate James Bradley, where second place has yet to be projected. Notably, Sen. Feinstein won 1st place in all 58 counties throughout the state.

Open Seats:

CA-39: OPEN – retiring Rep. Ed Royce (R-Chino/Orange County) –  In a free-for-all contest (17 candidates), Democrats did not get locked out of this race as they had feared: Republican candidate Young Kim was the top vote getter with 21.9% and will be facing off against philanthropist Gil Cisneros (D), who came in at a close second with 19.4% of the vote.

CA-49: OPEN – retiring Rep. Darrel Issa (R-San Diego) – From a crowded field of 16 candidates (!), Republican Diane Harkey, a member of the California State Board of Equalization, received 25.5% of the vote. While the #2 spot is still too-close-to-call, she is likely to face off against attorney Mike Levin (D) who has secured 17.1% of the vote (likely 3rd place finisher Democrat Sara Jacobs currently has 15.5% of the vote.)

Notable Competitive Races:

CA-10: Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Turlock) – In a race that almost turned out to be an unexpected lockout for Democrats, incumbent Republican Rep. Denham will face off against businessman Josh Harder (D) in November. Denham received 37.7% of the vote, while Harder came in second with 15.7% (only 1.3% ahead of Republican challenger Ted Howze).

CA-21: Rep. David Valadao (R-Hanford) – Incumbent Republican Rep. Valadao received a commanding 63.9% of the vote against the lone Democratic candidate TJ Cox (36.1%). Notably, Cox lives several miles outside of the Congressional District, and Hillary Clinton easily won this district in 2016; this will be a race to watch come November.

CA-25: Rep. Steve Knight (R-Santa Clarita) – Incumbent Republican Rep. Knight received a majority of the votes (52.8%) against 4 Democratic challengers. While the #2 spot is still too-close-to-call, and projections for 2nd place went back and forth overnight, it appears most likely Knight will be facing off against nonprofit executive Katie Hill (D) in November.

CA-45: Rep. Mimi Walters (R-Laguna Niguel/Irvine) – Rep. Walters received 53.2% of the vote and will be facing off with Democratic challenger law professor Katie Porter (D), who came in second with 19.9%. Notably, Rep. Walters won her seat easily in 2016, but Hillary Clinton also won the district; this will be a race to watch in November.

CA-48: Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) – In one of the more interesting contests of the night (16 candidates), and a race that is yet too close to call, Rep. Rohrabacher was the top vote getter with 30.3%. There is virtually a 3-way tie for second place (with approximately 17% each) between Democratic businessman Harley Rouda, Democratic biomedical researcher Hans Keirstead, and Republican politician Scott Baugh. While it is unlikely that Baugh catches up, it is possible that Keirstead, who was not the favored Democratic candidate, will make it to the general.

It is important to note that while some of the Republican candidates (primarily in crowded contests) did not receive a majority of the votes, the cumulative Republican vote total in all of the above 7 competitive districts was over 50%. In most of these districts, Hillary Clinton won the race for president in 2016.

Other Races to Watch

CA-26: Rep. Julia Brownley (D-Thousand Oaks) – While Ventura County is not likely to be a battleground district in November, Rep. Brownley will be facing Republican challenger Antonio Sabato, Jr. – yes, the soap opera star – in November.

CA-31: Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Redlands) – Incumbent Democratic Rep. Aguilar could see a close race against Republican challenger and economics professor Sean Flynn come November. In yesterday’s competition, Aguilar took 45.7% of votes to come in second behind Flynn (45.9%). Another Democratic candidate, retired educator Kaisar Ahmed, took 8% of votes in yesterday’s contest.  Aguilar will have to keep all Democratic votes in his column to prevail in November.

If you have any questions, or would like more background on any of the races from last night, please contact Jenny Nieto Carey, CLSA’s Vice President of Federal Government Relations & Alliance Development (