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A free-for-all in the 25th CD

California's 25th Congressional District. (Map: Federal Elections Commission)

It’s been a wild year for politics in 2019, from the national to the state scene, and one of the wilder spots is California’s 25th Congressional District.

The year started off with Democrats cheering as millennial Katie Hill took the seat, flipping it blue after a 25-year run in Republican hands.

But less than 12 months later, she resigned amid a sex scandal. Now, about a dozen candidates have entered the race to claim the seat, with pundits saying both parties have a good shot to grab it. The race is getting national attention revolving around the choices, which include a convicted criminal (Republican George Papadopoulos) and a controversial YouTube star (Democrat Cenk Uygur).

“It sounds like it’s going to be a mud fight.” — Sherry Bebitch Jeffe.

Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders gave – and then quickly retracted – an endorsement of Uygur, following widespread reports about Uygur’s demeaning comments about women on YouTube.

“It sounds like it’s going to be a mud fight,” said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, former professor at the University of Southern California School of Public Policy and longtime pundit. “The cast of characters is really interesting. It would be a big win for the Republicans if they could take it back.”

What also makes the race stand out is that it involves multiple elections. First, there’s the March 3 primary. Then, unless one candidate achieves the unlikely feat of winning more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two will advance to the May 12 special election. Finally, just six months later is the Nov. 3 election. “Can you imagine how much that is going to cost?” said Jeffe.

The state’s Democratic Party leadership has already rallied behind Assemblywoman Christy Smith, D-Santa Clarita.

The district covers portions of Los Angeles and Ventura Counties, including Simi Valley, Santa Clarita and suburban communities in the Antelope Valley. Phil Gussin, a professor of political science at College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, said the district includes a mix of upper middle class families and those that are fairly low income. Over recent years, the Hispanic population has been growing, now making up 35.3 percent of the population. The population is 45.8 percent white.

Recent voter registration records released by California Secretary of State Alex Padilla give the Democrats a slight edge with 154,450 voters (37.5 percent) listed as Democrat as compared with 129,587 (31.5 percent) registered as Republican. The district has 411,244 registered voters. Nearly a fourth of the district’s voters decline to state a party preference.

In an unusual step, the state’s Democratic Party leadership has already rallied behind Assemblywoman Christy Smith, D-Santa Clarita. Smith has racked up endorsements from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Kamala Harris and Gov. Gavin Newsom. Hill has also endorsed Smith.

Kate Maeder, a Democratic political strategist, said Democrats usually like having competitive primaries. But because they need the seat for national reasons, they’ve decided to get behind one candidate early. “The greater cause of Democratic control of congress is more important than the competitive fights we normally see,” she said.

“I’m smelling blood in the water now that Katie Hill has resigned. California’s 25th congressional district is wide open for the taking.

In a noteworthy twist, Sanders’ endorsement of Ugyur drew national attention. Sanders said Uygur, a host of the YouTube program “Young Turks,” was “a voice that we desperately need in Congress.” But Democrats complained, pointing to Uygur’s record of making vulgar comments about women and the gay community and the fact that he doesn’t live in the district.

After Uygur responded by saying he would refuse all future endorsements, Sanders retracted his endorsement.

“Cenk has been a longtime fighter against the corrupt forces in our politics and he’s inspired people all across the country,” Sanders said on Dec. 13. “However, our movement is bigger than any one person. I hear my grassroots supporters who were frustrated and understand their concerns. Cenk today said he is rejecting all endorsements for his campaign, and I retract my endorsement.”

Meanwhile, Papadopoulos, a Republican who served a 12-day federal prison sentence for lying to FBI agents about Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election, also wants the 25th District seat.

“I’m smelling blood in the water now that Katie Hill has resigned. California’s 25th congressional district is wide open for the taking. Someone has to step up,” he wrote in an Oct. 27 tweet.

Hill’s sudden resignation was extremely disappointing to Democratic loyalists, many of whom worked very hard to get her elected.

Steve Knight, a Republican who held the seat from 2015-2019, has entered the race, but it remains to be seen if he can recapture his support.

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, which endorsed him earlier, is holding off making a recommendation so far, said David Wolfe, the group’s legislative director.  With such a contested primary, the group will likely wait until March to make an endorsement, he said.

Jeffe said Hill’s sudden resignation was extremely disappointing to Democratic loyalists, many of whom worked very hard to get her elected. Hill’s resignation was a “waste” as she had been Pelosi’s protégé and was on significant committees, Jeffe said.

“I get the feeling – just my gut — that particularly the women who put so much on the line and gave so much energy to Hill just don’t have it anymore,” she said. “There is almost an exhaustion.”

Meanwhile, the Republicans are cheering and they should be, Jeffe said. “I don’t believe they ever thought they would get this opportunity.”

Jeffe said Hill’s sudden resignation was extremely disappointing to Democratic loyalists, many of whom worked very hard to get her elected. Hill’s resignation was a “waste” as she had been Pelosi’s protégé and was on significant committees, she said.

“I get the feeling – just my guts- that particularly the women who put so much on the line and gave so much energy to Hill just don’t have it anymore,” she said. “There is almost an exhaustion.”

Meanwhile, the Republicans are cheering and they should be, Jeffe said.

“I don’t believe they ever thought they would get this opportunity,” she said


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