Polling: Surprises lurk in those House seats

A view of the House of Representatives, with members and their visiting families. (Photo: Mark Reinstein)

A number of California’s Republican-held House seats face fierce challenges from Democrats, and the tally of votes in these tight races may not be completed for days, even weeks, following the election.

That’s the message in Capitol Weekly’s survey of more than 20,000 mail-in voters across California who cast their ballots prior to election day.

The email questions were distributed via Survey Monkey and covered congressional and legislative contests. The survey’s crosstabs with total vote, plus breakdowns by gender, party, age and ethnicity can be see here.

The findings are largely consistent with the New York Times Upshot/Sienna College polling and surveys by the Berkeley Institute for Governmental Studies, conducted by Mark Di Camillo, formerly of the Field Poll.

Our polling is only of absentee voters. It is intended to help us understand the first wave of absentee votes that will post this evening after the polls close at 8 p.m.

Voters who cast their ballots on election day — as well as the mail-in ballots cast on Monday and Tuesday — are not included.  It is worth noting that these later ballots tend to shift toward younger and more urban voters. They also heavily reflect Los Angeles County and Southern California voters, including those breaking away from Republicans.

Given this, if any Democrats get a lead in the first round of absentee ballots, it could prove decisive as we focus on which, if any, seats with GOP incumbents may be “flipped” and captured by Democrats.

Here’s a rundown of key congressional races. The letter “N” identifies the number of people who completed the survey.

4th Congressional District
Tom McClintock (R) 49% | Jessica Morse (D) 48% (N=1,141)

This is one of the big surprises of the election: In the northern-most competitive district in California, Democrat Jessica Morse appears to be staging a strong campaign against incumbent Republican Tom McClintock.

The polling shows both campaigns capturing their partisan vote, which has been much more Republican in the early vote. It is reflected in the polling, which includes 511 Republican respondents and just 389 Democrat, but the Morse lead with other, independent voters appears to be a big advantage for her.

This is not a race that has captured much attention from the mainstream media. It is considered Likely Republican by the Cook Political Report, but was not polled by the Upshot/NYT or Berkeley IGS.

If Morse ultimately wins, it would happen within an extremely large national Democratic wave beyond what most political professionals have been expecting.

10th Congressional District
Jeff Denham (R) 46% | Josh Harder (D) 52% (N=356)

This is a district that has seen almost identical turnout in the early vote between Democrats and Republicans.  On the weekend prior to the election, Democrats had cast just one more ballot than Republicans!  However, this is also a Central Valley district in which Republican candidates can out-perform their partisan numbers with the help of more conservative independent voters, and some crossover vote from Democrats.

It seems that incumbent Denham was predicted to be defeated in the last several elections, but he has always hung on.

The results in this survey give Harder an advantage going into election day, although the sample is a bit smaller than we have obtained in the other districts.

These are similar to results from the New York Times in which Harder held a 47%/45% lead in their polling from Oct. 21-25, and a 50%/45% margin for Harder in the UC Berkeley IGS polling.

21st Congressional District
David Valadao (R) 52% | T. J. Cox (D) 45% (N=106)

Among the small number of respondents, incumbent Valadao holds a strong lead.

Like the 4th CD, this is a race that was not polled by Berkeley IGS or Upshot/Sienna, so there isn’t the same quality reference point in recent public polling.

However, given the district history and strength of Valadao, even in elections with large Democratic turnout advantages, this should be a contest that Republicans will hold.

22nd Congressional District
Devin Nunes (R) 51% | Andrew Janz (D) 46% (N=409)

This contest appears closer in the limited sample than many might have expected.

In prior elections, Nunes has sailed to victory. But his strong support for President Trump, his role in the House Intelligence Committee and the claims that he interfered with the investigation he was overseeing have put him on the radar of national Democrats. They believe he could become vulnerable in this Central Valley seat. Thus far, however, the data isn’t backing this up.

Janz has a lock on the Democratic vote, and has a lead among Latinos and African Americans.

But Nunes dominates the Republican vote, while his deficit with independent voters is limited to 10 points, which allows him to maintain a lead with these early voters.

25th Congressional District
Steve Knight (R) 45% | Katie Hill (D) 54% (N=444)

Democratic Challenger Katie Hill looks to be taking a small lead over incumbent Republican Steve Knight in this district which sits in northern Los Angeles County and overlaps a portion of Ventura County.

Hill has led a relatively high profile race in this consistently Republican district.  A rock-climbing, horse-owning bisexual* who was featured in a Vice documentary about the primary, the flamboyant Hill once told a protester, “If you touch me again, I’ll drop your ass.”

If she wins, she would join California’s Mark Takano and just five others as a member of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus.

This nine-point lead by Hill is propped up by an overwhelming lead of 37-points among Independent voters and a massive 83%-17% lead among younger voters.

39th Congressional District
Young Kim (R) 49% | Gil Cisneros (D) 48% (N=334)

This district straddles Orange, Los Angeles and San Bernardino Counties and the composition of this race in of itself is a testament to the changing face of the region.

Among the early voters, Democratic Lottery Winner Gil Cisneros leads Republican Young Kim, a former legislator known for her aggressive fund-raising and political smarts, who won her seat in the 2014 gubernatorial election cycle.

The voters in this district are still predominantly white. But Asian and Latino voters, who historically have been small but significant bases of the Republican and Democratic parties respectively, are now their party’s standard bearers in a key race for control of the House.

This should be an incredibly tight contest.  This survey, along with the Berkeley polling and the NYT Upshot, put it at a 1-point difference.

45th Congressional District
Mimi Walters (R) 45% | Katie Porter (D) 53% (N=731)

In one of the highest profile California contests, Democrat Katie Porter leads Republican Mimi Walters, who has stayed an ardent supporter of President Trump, despite the president having a low level of support in her affluent district.

Porter has been profiled by several national organizations as an example of a winnable seat for Democrats, including Pod Save America on HBO and going precinct walking in the district with former Vice President Joe Biden.

Porter’s lead in the early vote is nearly identical to last month’s Berkeley IGS survey, which put the race at 52% to Walters 45%.

48th Congressional District
Rohrabacher (R) 47% | Harley Rouda (D) 47% (N=686)

The race has sparked intense national interest: No national Republican is better known as an ally of President Trump and apparent fan of Russian President Vladimir Putin than Dana Rohrabacher, who appears to be paying the price of those affiliations in the early absentee vote.

Our early numbers show them tied – a remarkable circumstance, given Rohrabacher’s long domination of the Orange County district.

Rohrabacher’s position and temperament might have caused some slippage among Republican voters, who support him at 90%. That’s high, but it’s the lowest among all incumbent Republican members in our survey.

Conversely, Rouda contains 98% of Democratic voters, and maintains an 11-point lead among indepdendent voters.

This contest is tied in our survey, tied in the Berkeley polling and is at a one-point Rouda advantage in the NYT Upshot polling. This seat, along with the 45th Congressional District, is entirely within Orange County) and the count may not be final until weeks after the polls close.

49th Congressional District
Diane Harkey (R) 42% | Mike Levin (D) 54% (N=889)

Democrat Mike Levin has a comfortable lead over Diane Harkey in this seat currently held by Darrell Issa (R) who announced his retirement earlier in this year.

Reportedly, Issa feared that he could not win in 2018, or if he won, he would have to fight again, and likely lose, in a 2020 election cycle with higher presidential turnout.  When he stepped aside a number of Republicans stepped forward, with Board of Equalization member and former Assemblywoman Diane Harkey winning a very competitive primary.

Harkey was helped in her campaign by considerable spending by Democratically-aligned groups against her opponent, former Assemblymember Rocky Chavez, who many believed would be a more competitive general election candidate.

This district is the only Republican-held seat in which the votes for Democratic candidates in the primary election were higher than the votes for Democratic candidates.  Among all competitive seats in California, this has been seen as the most likely to flip Democratic.

Levin’s lead is propped up by earning 96% of support from Democrats and a 45-point lead among independent voters. Surprisingly, Levin earns 11% support from Republicans, the largest crossover vote we have seen in our congressional surveys.

50th Congressional District
Duncan Hunter (R) 43% |  Ammar Campa-Najar (D) 53% (N=888)
This race was not considered to be a very fruitful target for Democrats until earlier this year when Duncan Hunter was indicted on a number of financial crime charges including wire fraud campaign finance violations.

Democrats have a candidate who has sought to capitalize on this opportunity, however experts from the Cook Political Report still rate this seat Lean Republican and many believe that Hunter will win.

However, if he wins there are a number of scenarios in which he vacates the seat — either immediately after beginning his new term or at some point before 2020.  It is even rumored that his replacement could be Darrel Issa, who vacated the 49th , one seat to the north, rather than face a tough re-election.

The polling also included several high profile legislative contests. These races have received significantly less attention than the Congressional contest, but are important in deciding the control of the state legislature, and if Democrats can regain a 2/3 majority in both houses.

A look at the legislative races:

34th Senate District
Tom Umberg (D) 38% |  Janet Nguyen (R) 51% (N=432)

Sen. Nguyen appears to have a significant lead heading into Election Day with a 13-point margin in the total vote.

This senate contest overlaps the 48th congressional district and two other seats which aren’t competitive in this election year, potentially spiking the vote within an area which is a good electoral base for Nguyen.

There is also a significant Vietnamese turnout in several communities underlying this senate contest which could account for the abnormally large 13% vote share for Nguyen among registered Democrats.  And this survey, without a Vietnamese language option, has likely underrepresented some of this population.

15th Assembly District
Jovanka Beckles (D) 39% |  Buffy Wicks (D) 42% (N=366)

The early vote in this East Bay district shows a slight advantage for Buffy Wicks, a former organizer for President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Wicks appears to be outpacing her opponent, Jovanka Beckles, a Richmond City Councilmember, among women, 49% to 37%, with divisions for Beckles among Latinos, and for Wicks among Asians.

The actual leader in this race is “don’t recall” at 45% which likely also captures Republican voters often will sit out of a race with no Republican on the ballot.

75th Assembly District
AD 76 – Tasha Boerner Horvath (D) 38% |  Elizabeth Warren (D) 30% (N=560)

This contest is most interesting for the oddity of it being a Democratic intraparty race.  This is a district that was previously held by Republican Rocky Chavez, and in both 2014 and 2016 no Democrat was even on the ballot in the General Election.  However, the competitive congressional race in CA 49 (Issa) surged Democratic turnout to an extent that two Democrats were able to nearly tie, and in doing so capture the top two spots.

Tasha Horvath begins the early vote with a lead over Elizabeth Warren (no relation to the US Senator and likely 2020 Presidential candidate).  Horvath appears to benefit from a slight advantage with Republicans, 52% of whom don’t know, or likely didn’t vote in the contest.

Whoever wins this seat will likely face a considerable challenge in 2020 and could lose the district entirely in the 2021 redistricting.

There were additional districts in which polling is less compelling because of the low participation rate.  Fewer voters in these districts have emails on the voter file, and each were seeing lower response rates for the emails sent.  They are presented here with the caveat that these are less informative because of the low sample size.  Details of each are available in the crosstabs.

12th Senate District
Anna Caballero (D) 48% |  Rob Poythress (R) 48% (N=295)
This Central Coast seat shows an incredibly close race between Assemblywoman Anna Caballeroand farmer Rob Poythress.

The divisions by party are clear, but Poythress is able to make up for the slightly lower Republican registration disadvantage by gaining nearly 20-points among independent voters while Caballero has a significant lead among Latinos.

22nd Senate District
Mike Eng (D) 50% |  Susan Rubio (D) 26% (N=232)

This intra-party Democratic runoff for the State Senate shows former Assemblymember Mike Eng, husband of Congresswoman Judy Chu, with a lead over Councilwoman Susan Rubio, sister of current Assemblywoman Blanca Rubio.

Eng appears to be outperforming Rubio among both genders, across political parties. Rubio is only winning among the district’s sizeable Latino population.

Editor’s Note: Corrects sexual orientation  of Katie Hill to bisexual, 30th graf.




Want to see more stories like this? Sign up for The Roundup, the free daily newsletter about California politics from the editors of Capitol Weekly. Stay up to date on the news you need to know.

Sign up below, then look for a confirmation email in your inbox.


Support for Capitol Weekly is Provided by: