President Biden traveled to California for the second time in less than three weeks on Thursday, hoping to boost Democratic House members whose reelection prospects are dwindling due to rising gasoline and grocery prices, rising homelessness, and an increase in violent crime.
Biden’s visit comes just days before Election Day to help two-term Rep. Mike Levin, who is facing a tough challenge from Republican businessman Brian Maryott. It’s a rematch for control of California’s 49th Congressional District, which includes parts of north San Diego County and Orange County, and whose redrawn district map leans slightly Democratic.
Levin won the district for the Democratic Party in 2018 and defeated Maryott by 6 points in 2020. However, the political landscape in Southern California shifted last week, reviving several Republican campaigns, including Maryott’s.
Top political analysts upgraded the 49th Congressional District race from “leans Democratic” to “toss-up.” Levin was among the candidates identified by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee on Tuesday as requiring “immediate resources” to win their seats.
Biden delivered a 50-minute speech to a crowd of about 1,000 people packed into a gymnasium at Mira Costa Community College in Oceanside, a heavily Latino, working-class area of the mostly affluent coastal district, as part of a four-state, three-day campaign swing that began in New Mexico.
But, far from Biden throwing a life vest to Levin, district voters across the political spectrum told RealClearPolitics that the president’s visit will have no effect on their voting decisions or will make them more compelled to vote Republican.
After nearly 45 years as a Democrat, Alex Demos, 65, a registered independent, says he has recently tended to vote Republican. He’s voting for Maryott this year, and Biden’s visit to the district has piqued his interest even more.
The women approached by the RCP refused to speak on the record with their names attached. One woman described herself as a Democrat who planned to vote strictly along party lines, which Biden’s visit would not change.
Democrats are deeply concerned about their prospects in the state’s purple areas as a result of such fatalistic sentiments. Republicans lost seven California House seats in 2018, a thrashing so severe that then-Speaker Paul Ryan questioned the state’s “bizarre” voting system, which appeared to hand several Republicans victories on election night but then snatched the victories the following week after all mail-in votes were counted.
Republicans were able to reclaim four of those seats in 2020, thanks in part to targeted get-out-the-vote efforts aimed specifically at increasing Asian American turnout in key districts. Representatives Michelle Steel and Young Kim are both of Asian descent and represent different parts of Orange County.
The Republican National Committee launched its first voter outreach center of the cycle, as well as its first Asian Pacific American Community Center, during the summer. The center is located in Westminster, Orange County’s “Little Saigon,” which has the world’s largest concentration of Vietnamese people outside of Vietnam.
The Cook Political Report named 11 California seats as among the most competitive in the country this year. Four of those 11 seats are currently designated as “lean Republican” or “likely Republican,” including Steel and Kim’s.
In contrast to the previous two election cycles, when pro-Levin direct mail and digital messages dominated the district, Maryott and the California Republican Party have sent a flurry of their own in recent weeks. In terms of advertising spending, Republicans have nearly equaled Democrats. According to advertising tracking firm AdImpact, Democrats have only narrowly outspent Republicans on television ads in the eight most competitive races across the state, $52 million to $51 million.
Despite the fact that Democrats outnumber Republicans in the state by a factor of two, Republican officials believe that deep anger over inflation and the economy has energized their base and will prompt more independents and even some Democrats to vote Republican.
The neighboring 47th District is one of the California districts that is now considered a toss-up. Once a reliably Republican seat in Orange County, Rep. Katie Porter switched parties in 2018 and won reelection by 7 percentage points in 2020.
Biden visited there last month to rally support for Porter, who has emerged as a party luminary, prolific fundraiser, and unapologetic progressive.