As mail-in votes have trickled in across the country over the last three weeks, Democrats have stealthily picked up one House seat after another. Once-impregnable bastions of Republican power in Sun Belt suburbs have fallen, including surprise seats in Oklahoma City and Salt Lake City. New England saw the total annihilation of GOP power, and with Maine Rep. Bruce Poliquin losing his re-election bid, that region’s six states will send 21 Democrats and zero Republicans to the next Congress. New Jersey experienced a near-wipeout as well, with its 6-5 Democrat-to-Republican delegation set to flip to 10-1.
But California is vast, with as many people as New England and New Jersey combined — plus another New England thrown in . And the state that gave the world Richard Nixon and the political career of Ronald Reagan has lurched from indigo to ultraviolet. As of last week, Democrats had won all six GOP-held toss-up seats, with mail-in votes in hotly contested races breaking toward the party as they were eventually tallied. For the first time since 1940, when its population was approximately 4 percent of the 3.1 million people who all it home today, famously conservative Orange County will have zero Republicans representing it in Congress.
As of Tuesday morning, Democrats are also coming from behind in a sleeper race in state’s 21st district, in the Central Valley, as two-term incumbent Rep. David Valadao has officially fallen behind challenger T.J. Cox. The final numbers should be in tonight, with Cox emerging victorious by only a few hundred votes in a heavily Latino district with comparatively few U.S. citizens and notoriously low voter turnout. (Only 101,000 votes were cast, barely a third of the turnout in San Francisco’s 12th district, which wasn’t even remotely a tight race.) The New York Times, which called CA-21 weeks ago in favor of the GOP, has switched its map to a more tentative shade of pink.
Nationwide, CA-21 represents the 40th Democratic pickup of the cycle, providing the party with a 235-200 seat majority. These developments have Republicans worried — and they should. National Review, the house organ of conservatism when it had intellectual rigor, says so anyway. And the former vice chairperson of the California Republicans stated plainly that the party “isn’t salvageable.” Republicans couldn’t even get their Senate candidates past the June primary, which led to the Dem-on-Dem matchup of incumbent Sen. Dianne Feinstein versus former State Senate president pro tem Kevin de León. They’re locked out of power at every level, with incoming Democratic supermajorities in both houses of the state legislature once again.
Indeed, the California Republican party has essentially collapsed. As recently as 1996, the state’s House delegation was split 50-50 between the two major parties, but in January 2019, California will send 46 Democrats and seven Republicans to Washington, the state having cut its already shrunken GOP delegation exactly in half. That means one in five Democrats in the entire House of Representatives will hail from the Golden State, something we should all keep in mind whenever people grumble about #CalExit. (Without California’s delegation, the remainder of America would be a gigantic, nuclear-armed superpower consigned to near-permanent conservative rule.)
And unlike states such as Texas or Pennsylvania, which harbor a number of extremely Caucasian, rural districts that send Republicans to Congress with lopsided 75-25 victories over hapless Democratic opponents, even California’s less populated areas see close victories for the GOP. In the first district, covering the state’s northeast, Rep. Doug LaMalfa only won by 56-44, while Rep. Tom McClintock (who represents much of the Sierra) won 55-45. Scandal-plagued Rep. Duncan Hunter eked out a five-point win over challenger Ammar Campar-Najjar in the military-heavy eastern San Diego suburbs, while erstwhile Trump henchman Rep. Devin Nunes only held onto his Central Valley seat by about 54-47.
Further, as it’s become overwhelmingly Democratic, California’s importance in the House’s overall power structure has only grown. The shrewd and crafty strategist Rep. Nancy Pelosi seems likelier than ever to get the speaker’s gavel in her hand. Meanwhile, in the wake of Paul Ryan’s retirement, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield looks to lead the Republican caucus. (He’d made a power play once before, but got in trouble for saying the quiet part loud when he admitted that all the Benghazi hearings were specifically designed to drag down Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers.)
Further down the hierarchy, Southern California Democrat Rep. Adam Schiff — whom the president recently called “Adam Schitt” in a tweet — will become the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, while frequent Trump foil Rep. Maxine Waters of Los Angeles will lead the House Financial Services Committee. Each may investigate the president’s various scandals and entanglements. The inward-facing House Administration Committee chair will go Rep. Zoe Lofgren of San Jose.
Rep. Barbara Lee of Oakland, the lone elected official to inveigh against a rush to judgment in the wake of 9/11, is in the running for House Caucus Chair, a position she lost out on in 2016 by two votes — to fellow Californian Rep. Linda Sanchez, who took herself out of the running after her husband was embroiled in scandal. That post is the fifth-highest in the chamber, and Lee could become the highest-ranking African-American women in Congressional history.