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Key California races could determine which party controls Congress

With millions of ballots left to count in California, the results of last Tuesday's midterm election could shift the balance of power in the House of Representatives. While the state is a Democratic stronghold, UC San Diego political science professor Thad Kousser said Republicans can still edge out a few wins.

"We aren't entirely blue," he said. "There are purple pockets and there are, of course, red pockets."

One of those Republican wins could be in San Diego County. Incumbent Mike Levin is leading in the 49th Congressional District that spans North Coastal San Diego and South Orange counties, but there are enough votes out there that could swing it to his Republican challenger, Brian Maryott.


Looking toward this election, Levin's seat was considered flippable after redistricting, Kousser said. It was enough of a concern that President Joe Biden and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg made trips to San Diego to help bolster the Democratic incumbent.

"The fact that it's got Orange County, which trends Republican in many of the areas in the 49th (District) in Orange County, the fact that it's got Oceanside that has so many veterans group that leans towards the Republicans in this midterm, that all made it very difficult ground to cover from for Mike Levin," Kousser said.

In the vote count released just after 5 p.m. Monday, Levin was ahead of Maryott by 12,796 votes, though there are still more than 100,000 ballots left to count in both San Diego and Orange counties. It's unknown how many of those ballots are in the 49th District.

With control of the Senate secured over the weekend with wins by Democratic Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto in Nevada and Mark Kelly in Arizona, the Democratic Party is now looking to keep control of the House.

"The are about a half dozen races in California that are close enough and the balance between Democrats and Republicans nationally in House races is close enough that California races will probably determine the outcome," University of San Diego political science professor Casey Dominguez said.


Currently, the GOP has 212 seats and the Democrats 204. To control the House, 218 seats are needed. For a chance to retain the House, Democrats need to pick up wins in California Districts 13, 22, 27, 41 and 47.

The 13th District is in the Central Valley, and it’s a statistical dead heat with fewer than 100 votes separating the Democrat, Adam Gray, and Republican John Duarte.

The 47th is in Orange County, and incumbent Democratic Rep. Katie Porter is leading, but Republican challenger Scott Baugh has a strong showing.

The 41st is in Riverside County. Incumbent Republican Rep. Ken Calvert is leading, but Democratic challenger Will Rollins can still make up the difference.

All these signal a shift in voter demographics in these regions.

"I think redistricting and demographic change are changing California politics, opening up these opportunities for a couple of districts that may flip," Kousser said. "One in the Modesto area, an area that's gotten increasingly demographically diverse. It's not just what the Central Valley looked like a generation ago."

“Both Orange County and Riverside have demographic shifts," Dominguez said. "One thing we see is districts that have a higher college-educated population have shifted toward the Democrats in the last couple of years.”