California Primary Election: Will Democrats Be Able to Help Swing Control of the House?

One candidate in the 39th District is ‘really similar’ to Bernie Sanders.

Miriam Jordan

Reporting from the 39th District, including parts of Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino counties.

Volunteers for Andy Thorburn, a Democratic candidate, think of him as the Bernie Sanders of the 39th Congressional District, which includes parts of Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino counties.

His supporters like that Mr. Thorburn, who was born in Brooklyn, started out as a high school teacher in New Jersey and became a union activist. They especially love that he was jailed in 1970 for violating a court order against striking, an episode he discusses in a campaign ad. Mr. Thorburn later became a businessman in the insurance field and founded an organization that provides microloans to poor people in developing countries.

“When I heard his life story, that he got arrested for organizing and is for racial equality, I knew I am supporting him,” said Jose Trinidad Castañeda, 27. “He is really similar to what Bernie Sanders did as young person.”

Schwarzenegger won’t be voting for any Republican candidates in the primary for governor.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, a former Republican governor who has been championing a movement in the state to move the party to the center, said he could not support anyone — even a fellow party member — who opposed the auto emission reduction programs that he had pushed through. Those programs have been pursued aggressively by Mr. Brown, his successor, in the face of a strong challenge from the Trump administration.

“Governor Schwarzenegger won’t vote for any candidate who advocates the outdated and disproved belief that California’s environmental progress is incompatible with our economic success,” said Daniel Ketchell, his spokesman.

Mr. Schwarzenegger’s decision, which was first reported by The Los Angeles Times, is unusual, but not a surprise. He has warned that the Republican Party is becoming increasingly irrelevant in California, because of its stands on immigration and the environment. The top two Republican candidates for governor here — Mr. Cox and Travis Allen, a member of the State Assembly — have aligned themselves with Mr. Trump on those issues.

— Adam Nagourney from Los Angeles

In the 25th District, one voter said the state is ‘becoming a little bit too liberal for us.’

Sydney Ember

Reporting from the 25th District, just north of Los Angeles.

Democrats are hoping they can turn California’s 25th Congressional District blue, but some voters want things to stay just the way they are. Jeff Toler, 57, a school bus driver from Palmdale, has lived in the area for more than 50 years. “Am I a Democrat? Oh definitely not,” he said as he sat in the Antelope Valley Mall in Palmdale. “Do I agree with Trump?” he asked. “100 percent.”

That is the type of sentiment that could alarm Democrats, who are banking on this area in the arid high desert to help deliver them a victory in November. Located in the eastern part of the district — where on Monday, ash rained down from a nearby fire — it has become increasingly diverse in recent years, particularly as people have sought out more affordable housing near Los Angeles.

To flip the seat, Democrats are focusing on voters like Margarita Alvarez, 53, who said they were ready for change. “Things can be better,” she said, as she ate a sandwich at the mall on her lunch break.

But for every voter like Ms. Alvarez, there are also those who think more like Mr. Toler. Sitting outside the Department of Motor Vehicles in Simi Valley on Monday morning, Patricia Garcia, 49, a registered Republican from the area, said she was not happy with how blue California had become. “It’s becoming a little bit too liberal for us,” she said. “We see California moving too far to the left.”

Jose A. Del Real

Reporting from the 49th District in San Diego and Orange Counties, south of Los Angeles.

This candidate imagined all the cruel things people might say about her, and still decided to run.

Like many first-time candidates in this year’s elections, Sara Jacobs, a Democrat in the 49th Congressional District, decided to run over frustration with politics, especially after 2016.

But running for public office can be punishing, she conceded. Before she began her campaign, she wrote down all of the cruel things she thought people would and could say about her. Then she had her friends read the comments out loud in front of her. “And that didn’t even come close to what people have said about me,” she said, with a laugh.

Ms. Jacobs, 29, was encouraged to enter the race by Emily’s List, a fund-raising organization devoted to electing women who support abortion rights. She sees her age and gender as strengths, though she said both have made it easier for people to question her qualifications.

The granddaughter of one of Qualcomm’s co-founders, she has been able to largely self-fund her campaign.

Polling has been scattershot in the district, which stretches from the southern tip of Orange County down past Encinitas toward San Diego and is one of the most hotly pursued seats by Democrats in their quest to flip the House. Recent numbers have put Ms. Jacobs between second and fourth place.

“Voters really are looking for a change, for something different,” Ms. Jacobs said. “And I provide the best, clearest example of what different looks like.”


Sara Jacobs, a congressional candidate, right, talks with Amy Kuhn, her political director, at their campaign headquarters on Monday.

Hilary Swift for The New York Times

You cannot just vote, a volunteer says: ‘I’m taking part in the heavy lifting.’

Karin Brennan, 62, had never participated in political organizing before. But the results of the 2016 presidential election swept her into action.

She attended the Women’s March on Washington in 2017, began connecting with grass-roots Democratic organizations and took part in a protest outside the Vista office of Representative Darrell Issa, the Republican incumbent in the 49th Congressional District, who is not seeking re-election.

“I realized that you can’t just go vote on Election Day and expect everything to fall into place,” she said. “So now I’m taking part in the heavy lifting.”

On Monday, Ms. Brennan worked on a phone bank at the Carlsbad office of Flip the 49th, an organization that is seeking to increase Democratic voter turnout in the district.

“We’re making the base bigger,” she said. “That’s all we can do.”

‘Even a flier on the door can mean 10 more votes,’ said a candidate in the 48th District.

Of the dozens of knocks Harley Rouda, a Democratic candidate in the 48th Congressional District, made in Costa Mesa on Monday afternoon, only a few led to open doors. But he said he was certain it was worth his while: “Even a flier on the door can mean 10 more votes.” And here, even a tiny number of votes may make a difference on Tuesday with more than a dozen candidates on the ballot.

The big question, then, is whether so many Democrats (there are three actively running) will split the vote between Mr. Rouda and Hans Keirstead, who is also vying to replace the incumbent. If they do, it’s possible Scott Baugh, a longtime local Republican Party leader here, will get the second spot on the November ballot.

Mr. Rouda said he saw Mr. Baugh as the bigger threat, but quickly added that it could come down to the slimmest of margins. “Anybody showing up or not voting or voting for me could make the difference between whether or not there’s a Democrat as a choice in the fall,” he said, standing on a palm tree-lined cul-de-sac. “Would I rather there was a unified party effort? Absolutely. There is some risk. But I believe we will make it.”

Democrats face a crowded field in the Central Valley.

Thomas Fuller

Reporting from the 10th District in the Central Valley.

Jerry Kinkey, 71, is precisely the type of voter that Democrats are counting on this year. He also offers a cautionary tale for the long list of Democrats fighting it out for a spot on the November ballot.

In the driveway of his home in Tracy, on the western fringe of the 10th Congressional District, Mr. Kinkey, a registered Republican and a Vietnam veteran, said he had flipped in this election. He voted by mail last week.

He dropped his support of Jeff Denham, the Republican incumbent, because Mr. Denham voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act. In 2016, Mr. Denham, a businessman, squeaked past Michael Eggman, a Democratic beekeeper who is running again. Other Democratic contenders include Josh Harder, a former technology venture capitalist who has raised $1.5 million for his campaign; Virginia Madueño, the former mayor of the small city of Riverbank; and Sue Zwahlen, an emergency room nurse.

So which Democrat did Mr. Kinkey pick?

There were so many names on the ballot, he cannot remember. “I had to wing it,” he said.


Josh Harder and his fiancée at a campaign event in the Central Valley of California. Mr. Harder has raised more money than his Democratic opponents combined in the 10th District race.

Alpana Aras-King for The New York Times

If you shrank California’s political dynamics down to a single constituency it might look something like the 10th District, a patchwork of liberal-leaning cities and more conservative rural farming communities east of San Jose. There are rows and rows of peach and cherry trees, almond groves and cattle farms. And there are also fast-growing cities like Tracy and Manteca, which increasingly serve as bedroom communities for the San Francisco Bay Area.

Mr. Denham, who has raised $3 million, is widely considered a shoo-in on Tuesday. There is also the seemingly remote possibility of two Republicans advancing in the jungle primary: Ted Howze, a veterinarian active in Republican politics in the city of Turlock, is challenging Mr. Denham, although federal filings show he has not raised any money.

All eyes are on November in the 21st District.

Elizabeth Dias

Reporting from the 21st District in the Central Valley.

In the 21st Congressional District, where tumbleweeds blow across the freeway that cuts through miles and miles of peach and almond farms, the suspense is not around who will win Tuesday’s primary, but on just how motivated Democrats are to flip this district from red to blue come November.

Only two names are on the ballot in this congressional race, so both will advance: Representative David G. Valadao, the Republican incumbent since 2013, and the Democratic challenger, T.J. Cox, an engineer and businessman from Fresno. For now, Mr. Cox has been phone banking at his field office in Hanford, not far from where Mr. Valadao has been meeting with constituents and the California Farm Bureau.

And the almond versus dairy wars are real in this area, in more ways than one.

“The dairy guys, it’s a declining industry,” said Mr. Cox, in touring his almond processing plants in Madera, just outside the district. “The trade wars don’t help.”

It was pointed comment — Mr. Valadao has a dairy farm in the district. As he walked over to the roasting line, he ticked off problems with Mr. Trump’s tariffs, which he said hurt his and his customers’ ability to sell their produce oversees.

Mr. Cox lives outside the district, which he defends by pointing to the $120 million in funding he has secured for district projects like the health clinics. He lives just nearby, in the Fig Garden area of Fresno, “where all the farmers live,” he said.


T.J. Cox, a Democrat running for Congress in the 21st District, visited a plant that he co-owns in Madera, Calif., on Monday.

Ryan Christopher Jones for The New York Times

Here’s one way to stand in the shoes of a politician.

Our reporter covering the 21st Congressional District, Elizabeth Dias, joined Mr. Cox on a tour of an almond processing plant on Monday; follow her on Twitter @elizabethjdias for more. (Note: The temperature was forecast to reach 99 degrees today. Definitely flip-flop weather.)

Health and energy are concerns in the 45th District.

Ivan Penn

Reporting from the 45th District in Orange County, south of Los Angeles.

A handful of Democratic candidates in the 45th Congressional District, where voters lean Republican, are hoping to unseat the incumbent Representative Mimi Walters, who they have criticized for supporting Mr. Trump’s health care policy.

The challengers include Brian Forde, a technology researcher who worked in the Obama administration; Kia Hamadanchy, a former staff member for Senators Sherrod Brown and Tom Harkin; Dave Min, a law professor at the University of California-Irvine who has worked as an aide to Senator Chuck Schumer; and Katie Porter, a consumer protection lawyer and law professor at U.C. Irvine.

Energy policy is also a concern for several of the candidates, who are running in the state that leads the nation in solar energy use. State lawmakers have mandated that California get half its electricity from noncarbon-producing sources by 2030, and some have pushed for raising the requirement to 100 percent.

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