Despite its size, California has become little more than a fundraising stop in national elections because it has grown so reliably Democratic over the past two decades. But the razor-thin vote in the House of Representatives earlier this month to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act has moved the state into an unaccustomed position: ground zero in next year’s battle for control of Congress.
Even before the vote, the state began registering on the 2018 radar because seven of its House Republicans represent districts that backed Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump last November. That’s nearly one-third of all Clinton-district Republicans in the lower chamber, and the largest concentration in any state.
But when all seven unexpectedly voted for the GOP health-care bill, California suddenly moved to the very center of Democratic efforts to capture the 24 seats the party needs to regain a House majority. “If they get back the House, they are going to have to take a big chunk of these seats,” said Bill Carrick, a longtime Southern California-based Democratic strategist. “If you don’t win seats here … then you have to chase Southern seats and rural Midwestern seats.”
The unanimous support from the “California Seven” for the deeply controversial repeal bill was stunning in two respects. First, it clearly distinguished them from the 16 other Republicans in Clinton districts: Outside of California, more of those representatives opposed (nine) than supported (seven) the bill. Instead, their “yes” votes aligned them with the seven California Republicans from districts Trump carried. (That unanimity, California Republicans say, may have partly reflected personal loyalty to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield.)