California Sen. Alex Padilla advances in midterm primary election

Senator Alex Padilla attends SCOTUS nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson's Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing
Sen. Alex Padilla on Capitol Hill in March.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Sen. Alex Padilla, who was appointed to the post after Kamala Harris became vice president, easily won a spot on the November ballot after California voters hit the polls on Tuesday.

The Porter Ranch Democrat, a former Los Angeles and state elected official, faced underfunded and unknown competitors in the race.

“I’m honored to have received the support of so many California voters from all areas of the state in my campaign for Senate. I thank every voter who cast their ballot in this election and every election worker who helped administer another successful election,” Padilla said in a statement. “I’m humbled and excited to continue delivering for California and earning the support of California voters again in November.”

Padilla was on the ballot twice — once to fill the remainder of Harris’ term through early 2023 and in the primary to run for a full six-year term. He advanced in both to compete twice again in the general election in November.

Republican attorney Mark Meuser, whom Padilla overwhelmingly defeated in the 2018 secretary of state’s race, also advanced to the general election in both contests in November.

Padilla was one of the first primary victors Tuesday night after a low-turnout election that also included congressional races.

The contests on Tuesday will also determine the general election matchups for the state’s congressional races. Those general contests in November could usher in a number of changes to California’s 52-member House delegation, the largest in the nation. The races will reverberate nationally, as Democrats look to the state as a buffer against expected congressional losses and Republicans seek to pad their margins if they successfully take the House.

Under California’s primary system, the top two vote-getters will move on to the November general election regardless of party. Vote counting could take weeks in close races, with ballots that were mailed by Tuesday accepted until June 14. There are several contests that political observers around the nation are watching closely, in part because of the once-every-decade redrawing of congressional districts that follows the census.

Democrats — facing headwinds because of President Biden’s low approval ratings, inflation and historic voter trends — view three GOP-held seats in the state as among their best pickup opportunities across the country.

Republican Rep. Mike Garcia, a former fighter pilot, and Democratic former Assemblywoman Christy Smith will battle for a third time to represent a northern L.A. County district. Garcia beat Smith in a special election in 2020, but then eked by with a 333-vote victory in the regular election later that year.

The onetime conservative district had been trending more liberal in recent years as demographics changed, and after redistricting, Democrats now have a nearly 12-percentage-point voter registration advantage. Democrat John Quaye Quartey, a combat veteran and novice politician who is a newcomer to the district, had been battling with Smith for the second spot but conceded Tuesday evening.

Results are still pending in a marquee Central Valley congressional race. Democrats have a substantial registration edge in GOP Rep. David Valadao’s district, but he’s navigated the political terrain before. This year, however, the Hanford Republican faced two competitors from his right, reflecting anger in the GOP base over his vote to impeach former President Trump.

Trump hasn’t spoken out publicly against Valadao, setting the congressman apart from the nine other House Republicans who voted for impeachment. That made it difficult for his GOP challengers — Chris Mathys and Adam Medeiros — to consolidate support. A late effort from a Democratic outside group sought to elevate Mathys, which led to a House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy-aligned super PAC to respond with attack ads against him. Meanwhile, Democratic Assemblyman Rudy Salas of Bakersfield is expected to scoop up votes from the district’s more liberal voters.

Redistricting moves

When redistricting moved GOP Rep. Michelle Steel’s Seal Beach home into Democratic Rep. Katie Porter’s district, Steel opted not to face the prodigious fundraiser. Steel, a Korean American immigrant, ran instead in a new district that is less favorable for Republicans but contains many Asian American voters.

Democrat Jay Chen, the son of Taiwanese immigrants and a Navy Reserve intelligence officer, is her main rival. Though the race has not yet been called, the pair are expected to continue their heated battle through the November election.

In Porter’s newly drawn district, which includes much of the Orange County coast, Democrats now have only a 1-percentage-point voter registration edge. Biden won among voters in the new the district by 11% in 2020, and they also opposed the recall of Gov. Gavin Newsom last year. Porter, an Irvine attorney who has become a darling among Democrats nationally, is far better known than her likely GOP rival.

Though the race has not yet been called, Porter is expected to face off in the fall against attorney Scott Baugh, a former state assemblyman and chair of the Orange County GOP. Though Porter has swamped Baugh in fundraising, he has raised seven figures because of his long-standing ties with the county’s wealthy donors.

Two-term Democratic Rep. Mike Levin won a spot on the November ballot and is waiting to see which of several Republican challengers he will face in November. The district straddling Orange and San Diego counties has a 2-percentage-point Democratic advantage, making it a possible pickup opportunity for the GOP. But that could still be a reach for Republicans; voters in the district backed Biden over Trump by 11 percentage points in the 2020 election. The top GOP contenders are former San Juan Capistrano Mayor Brian Maryott, Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett and Oceanside City Councilman Christopher Rodriguez.

Rep. Young Kim appeared to be in solid political position in her new, redder district located largely in inland Orange County. But she and allies ended up spending more than $2 million to fend off an upset by fellow Republican Greg Raths, a Mission Viejo city councilman who campaigned to her right.

Asif Mahmood, a physician and former candidate for insurance commissioner, is the sole Democrat on the ballot. The race has not yet been called. If Kim and Mahmood advance to the general election, the district would likely be easier for Republicans to retain. In fact, Mahmood advertised about Raths in the primary in an attempt to raise his profile.

Musical chairs and open seats

The musical chairs that followed redistricting, retirements and elected officials seeking other opportunities created a number of open seats.

Two incumbents decided not to seek reelection after they were both drawn into a new, overwhelmingly Democratic, Latino-majority district that stretches from southeast L.A. cities down to Long Beach.

Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia and Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia are the top Democrats running to represent this area. Robert Garcia had a significant edge in fundraising and endorsements. His campaign appeared to try to elevate the primary profile of Republican John Briscoe, a school district trustee and perennial candidate.

In Los Angeles, Rep. Karen Bass decided to run for mayor rather than seek reelection in one of three California congressional districts represented by Black politicians. State Sen. Sydney Kamlager and former Los Angeles City Councilwoman Jan Perry are among several candidates vying to replace her.

The race has not been called, but the district, which includes South Los Angeles, Leimert Park, Ladera Heights and part of Culver City, is almost certain to remain in Democratic hands; the party has a 59-percentage-point voter registration edge in the district.

In the Central Valley, former GOP legislative leader Connie Conway prevailed over Lourin Hubbard, a Democratic water resource manager, in a special election runoff to fill the remainder of former Rep. Devin Nunes’ term. (Nunes left Congress to head Trump’s new social media company.)

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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