President Donald Trump scored a big win in a California special election on Wednesday when Mike Garcia successfully flipped a Democratic House seat in favor of the GOP.
The blowout win comes in spite of a last-minute intervention by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Experts called the toss-up election a potential preview of the upcoming 2020 presidential contest.
And Trump’s supporter won big.
Garcia said it was the 2018 elections that prompted the Republican to enter public life, as his home state moved deeper into Democratic-dominated government that he faults for job-crushing regulation and climbing taxes.
“I don’t want my country to turn into what my state has become,” says Garcia, who claimed a vacant U.S. House seat Tuesday north of Los Angeles.
The political newcomer’s win over Democrat Christy Smith marked the first time in over two decades that a Republican captured a Democratic-held congressional district in California.
What was supposed to be a tossup election ended up with Garcia holding a comfortable 12-point edge in an incomplete tally Wednesday.
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Garcia appeared to benefit from enthusiasm among conservatives who saw a rare opportunity to seize a Democratic-held seat in California, even though the district electorate has a Democratic registration edge.
His Hispanic surname was likely a benefit in a district with a significant Latino population. His military service would play well in a district known as popular with veterans and Los Angeles police officers.
The son of a Mexican immigrant father, Garcia will go to Congress as a fresh face who campaigned as a supporter of President Donald Trump and railed against “socialist-style” policies coming from the Sacramento statehouse.
Smith delivered her congratulations but said she expected their roles to be reversed in November, when the two meet in a rematch for the full, two-year House term that begins in January.
“This is only one step in the process,” she said in a statement.
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The race in the 25th District was being watched nationally as a proxy vote on Trump’s leadership during the coronavirus crisis, as well as for hints about the political climate heading toward the November elections.
Coupled with another GOP special election victory Tuesday in a heavily Republican Wisconsin district, Garcia’s win would leave Democrats with a 233-198 House majority, plus an independent and three vacancies.
Democrats are heavily favored to retain House control in November’s elections.
Republicans said Garcia’s victory showed the GOP can win in suburban districts, where moderate voters deserted the party in droves in 2018. Republicans lost 40 seats that year, enough for Democrats to take hold of the chamber. Seven of those seats were in California, including the 25th District.
But Democrats remain hopeful there would be a different result when Garcia and Smith face off again in November.
“Democrats will retake this seat in November,” said Rep. Cheri Bustos, an Illinois Democrat who leads her party’s House political organization.
Garcia, a 44-year-old father of two boys whose wife is an interior designer, grew up in the same area he will represent, a district that cuts through suburbs and small ranches in northern Los Angeles and eastern Ventura counties.
“I didn’t grow up wanting to be a politician,” he told supporters at a Simi Valley tavern in January, before statewide stay-at-home orders took effect. “I literally just saw the last elections and I said, ’Hey, if I’m not going to do it, who is going to do it?′ ”
A top graduate at the United States Naval Academy, he went on to fly over 30 combat missions in Operation Iraqi Freedom. After 20 years in the military, he would spend a decade at defense contractor Raytheon.
Garcia and Smith each raised over $2 million, a rare instance in a year when Democrats in key races have usually far outgunned Republicans in contributions. Outside Democratic political organizations also poured more than $2 million into the contest at Pelosi’s behest.
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The seat became vacant last year after then Rep. Katie Hill acknowledged a “throuple” sexual relationship with a campaign worker and the House opened an ethics probe into an allegation that she was also sexually involved with another member of her congressional staff.
Smith and Garcia topped a crowded field of candidates in the March 3 primary.
Hillary Clinton carried the district by nearly 7 points in the 2016 presidential election, and two years later Hill claimed what was the last Republican-held House seat anchored in Los Angeles County with a 9-point win.
In heavily Democratic California, “It does indicate Republicans are not doomed everywhere,” Claremont McKenna College political scientist Jack Pitney said.
The Associated Press contributed to this article