LOS ANGELES (AP) — Representative Mike Garcia, a former Navy fighter pilot, scored an upset U.S. House victory Wednesday, giving Republicans control of the chamber and giving the GOP a rare reason to celebrate in a Democrat-dominated state that is also home to the likely future speaker, House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy.
Garcia was elected to a third term in a Democratic-leaning district that then-Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden won by double digits in 2020. It was Garcia’s third consecutive victory over Democrat Christy Smith, a former lawmaker.
With nearly 75% of the vote counted, Garcia has 54.2%, to 45.8% for Smith.
Garcia, who flew more than 30 combat missions during Operation Iraqi Freedom, is the only GOP House member with a district entrenched in heavily Democratic Los Angeles County.
It takes 218 seats to run the House. With the addition of the latest California results, the Republicans have so far captured 218 seats, while the Democrats claimed 211.
In another major win in the state, Representative Mike Levin defeated a tough challenge from Republican businessman Brian Maryott in a Southern California district that spans Orange and San Diego counties.
With nearly all votes counted, Levin had 52.65%, to 47.4% for Maryott.
Levin said he was eager to return to Washington to continue working on affordable health care, climate change and veterans’ assistance. Biden had come to the district in the closing days of the election hoping to boost Levin.
Garcia’s victory, which put the Republican House in control, came with a dash of political brutality, arriving in a state so solidly Democratic that a Republican hasn’t won a race statewide since 2006, which includes House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco lives. California is known nationally as a liberal monolith, but there are still conservative forces, mostly in the Southern California suburbs and rural and agricultural areas.
But even with the wins, Republicans will remain a small minority within the state’s congressional delegation.
Of the 52 seats — the largest delegation in Congress — GOP candidates had captured just nine districts as of Wednesday. Counting continued in five districts, though one was a matchup between two Democrats.
First elected in a special election in May 2020, Garcia was re-elected two years ago with just 333 votes. He faced an even bigger challenge this year, after his left-leaning district was redrawn and became more Democratic.
Smith, a former lawmaker, had argued that Garcia was out of step with voters in the district: He was endorsed by then-President Trump in 2020, then joined House Republicans who rejected electoral votes from Arizona and Pennsylvania and opposed Trump’s impeachment after the Capitol riot. She also highlighted Garcia’s opposition to abortion rights.
Garcia highlighted his military service and pointed to his vote in support of $2,000 stimulus checks as an example of his political independence. He has also highlighted local issues, including concerns about illegal marijuana cultivation.
In California, the main battlefields of the house are Orange County – a vast area in the suburbs southeast of Los Angeles that was once a GOP stronghold but has become increasingly diverse and Democratic – and the Central Valley, an inland stretch also known as the The country’s salad bowl is named because of its agricultural production. .
The most exciting remaining contest in the state took place in the Central Valley, where Democrat Adam Gray grabbed a razor-thin lead after Republican John Duarte jumped ahead by 84 votes in a battle for an open seat in District 13.
Gray’s campaign underlined the closeness of the race and formed a committee to raise money to fund a potential recount. The latest results showed Gray leading by 600 votes, with nearly 85% of the ballots tabulated.
In Orange County, Democratic Representative Katie Porter held a nearly three-point lead over Republican Scott Baugh in one of the nation’s largest races. Baugh had cut her lead in half earlier in the week as the count continued. But Porter, a star of the party’s progressive wing, bounced back. About 90% of the votes had been counted.
In the Central Valley’s 22nd district, where about two-thirds of the vote is counted, Republican Representative David Valadao, who voted to impeach then-President Donald Trump, had a 5.6-point margin over Democrat Rudy Salas.
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