The Most Endangered Incumbent in Congress Is This SoCal Republican

Rep. Steve Knight is in big trouble — but as the blue wave begins to crest, so are almost all California Republicans.

Rep. Steve Knight is about to enter a world of hurt, electorally speaking. (US Congress)

Many things can change between now and November, but the blue wave looks like it might become a blue-nami. Democrats nationwide are out-raising their opponents, and running in record numbers. Aggregated polls of a dozen incumbent Republicans in seats generally considered “safe” revealed yesterday that nearly every one of them is seriously underperforming President Trump’s 2016 margin of victory in their districts — and there are dozens of GOP-held seats where embattled lawmakers have bolted for the exits.

But of all the 238 Republican seats, the most endangered incumbent is Rep. Steve Knight, who represents California’s 25th district. Covering a small part of the northern San Fernando Valley and extending up through Santa Clarita to the Antelope Valley cities of Lancaster and Palmdale, it’s notable for being dead even in terms of its partisan lean between the two major parties. 

We’ve, uh, encountered Knight before, after he voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act. And he’s in pretty big trouble. In a comprehensive analysis of at-risk seats, the nonpartisan Cook Political Report compiled seven risk factors by which to judge how a given incumbent is faring in what’s looking to be a difficult year for Republicans. Those metrics are:

  1. Sits in a district with a Cook PVI score of R+5 or less Republican.
  2. Sits in a district that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016.
  3. Received 55 percent of the vote or less in the 2016 election (or a 2017 special election).
  4. Voted in favor of the American Health Care Act in the May 4 roll call vote.
  5. Voted in favor of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in the Dec. 19 roll call vote.
  6. Raised less money than at least one Democratic opponent in the first quarter of 2018.
  7. Has a Democratic opponent with at least $200,000 in cash on hand as of March 31.

Some 32 GOP legislators nationwide have three of these risk factors attached to them like leg irons, while 23 have four and another 23 have five. Eight have six — but only Knight has the dubious distinction of checking off all seven. Ouch. In fairness, risk factor no. 6 (raising money) might be questionable, since Republican Super PACS and sugar daddies like the Koch brothers or Sheldon Adelson have a tendency to dump enormous amounts of cash into races of their choosing, and Cook’s analysis doesn’t seem to account for that. But then again, no one’s resources are truly infinite — and if it comes to triage time, the Republican leadership may just decide to write off incumbents who appear doomed in order to shore up other vulnerable seats where they have a fighting chance. It’s already happening in some places.

Knight’s district is the bright purple one just north of L.A.

What’s also remarkable about the Cook report is that out of California’s 14 GOP-held Congressional seats, 10 appear on this list. While that might sound as though four Republican seats are safe, this list only includes incumbents running for re-election — not open seats that reflect a retirement. Two Southern California Republicans — Rep. Darrell Issa and Rep. Ed Royce — decided to call it quits, and Cook also rates both seats as “Lean Democratic.” 

In other words, of the 14 Republican-held seats in California, only two are safe. (One would be Rep. Kevin McCarthy, who may become the next party leader after Rep. Paul Ryan surrenders the gavel, and the other is Rep. Ken Calvert, who represents a very red Inland Empire seat.)

But because the Democrats are basically the Muppets, they can still mess all of this up. In the 39th district, where ex-Republican and lottery winner Gil Cisneros has self-funded his bid in the June 5 Democratic primary to succeed the outgoing Ed Royce, allegations have surfaced that he left a bizarre voicemail threatening his opponent. Cisneros denies this, but what a mess.

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