A California congressional district that had previously been labeled a “Democrat-leaning open seat” has become a “toss up,” according to some analysts as Election Day nears.
Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., currently represents California’s 13th Congressional District after defeating Republican candidate Nikka Piterman in Nov. 2020 with 90.4% of the vote compared to Piterman’s 9.6%.
Due to redistricting after the 2020 census, Lee is running for office in California’s 12th Congressional District, which is currently held by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., against Republican candidate Stephen Slauson.
President Joe Biden won the old 13th Congressional District in 2020 with 88.9% of the vote and then-President Donald Trump won 9% of the vote before it underwent redistricting, Ballotpedia reported.
The 13th Congressional District was redrawn after the 2020 census and now encompasses an entirely different—and much larger—area. According to a calculation from Daily Kos, then-nominee Biden would have still won the district with 54.3% of the vote and Trump would have won 43.4%.
The Cook Political Report rated the district a “Democrat toss up” but favoring Gray by 4 percentage points. Similarly, Sabato’s Crystal Ball rated the race as a Democrat “toss up” and Inside Elections rated the race as a “toss up.”
“It’s a Democratic-leaning open seat [and] Democratic-leaning open seats in a year like this are gettable for Republicans. I don’t know if it’s necessarily much more complicated than that. I think both Republicans and Democrats view it as a very competitive race. There’s been a lot of outside spending in it,” Kyle Kondik, managing editor at Sabato’s Crystal Ball, told The Daily Signal in a phone interview.
“The battlefield this year is a lot of districts that are Democratic leaning, places where Biden won by single digits or maybe low double digits. I forget off the top of my head what this one is – I think it’s like Biden +10, give or take,” Kondik said. “Maybe if Josh Harder was running in this district as opposed to CA-9, maybe he’d be a small favorite, but I think as an open seat… I think it’s a toss-up.”
Kondik said the competitiveness seen in California’s 13th Congressional District race is a “national thing.”
“I think in a more kind of neutral or Democratic-leaning year, I think the Democrats would be favored in a district like this – and maybe they still end up winning it. But I think a lot of it just has to do with the president’s party struggling in a midterm environment,” Kondik said.
John Allan Peschong, a partner at the California-based Meridian Pacific Strategies, said that the issues on which Duarte and Gray focus contribute to the apparent rightward shift in California’s 13th Congressional District.
“You have one candidate who’s from the state assembly and as you know, it’s a Democrat-controlled supermajority in the state assembly and Senate,” Peschong, who served in the White House during the President Ronald Reagan’s administration, told The Daily Signal in a phone interview.
“To be honest with you, they’ve created a lot of the problems that we find ourselves in right now, especially the problems when we’re dealing with the day-to-day situation that working families find themselves in,” he added.
Peschong said the rightward shift in California’s 13th Congressional District is happening “nationwide.”
“I’m not doing a lot of races outside of California this year. But I will tell you that the ones that I have been involved with and the ones the folks I’m talking to do see that the crime issue, coming out of COVID like this, the fact that small businesses were shut down and so people were working, they’re not working,” Peschong said.
“It’s been really, really tough on working families,” Peschong added.
Cesar Ybarra, the vice president of policy at FreedomWorks and a former California resident, said the “Democrats’ refusal to address inflation and high gas prices are major contributors in this race.”
“Democrat candidate Adam Gray voted to increase gas taxes, and he skipped the vote on his own bill to suspend the gas tax,” he said.
Like Kondik and Peschong, Ybarra noted that the race was part of a larger trend throughout the country.
For the past two years, the American people have watched the Democratic Party destroy our economy, destroy the oil and gas industry, fuel inflation by continued frivolous spending from the federal government; enable illegal immigration, demonize the police and refuse to address crime and violence, and protect and support radical teachers unions who refused to return to in-person teaching, permanently affecting the next generation.
“Democrats have refused to address any of these issues. They seem to be focused on advancing their radical agenda instead of promoting the safety and wellbeing of everyday Americans,” he said. “The Democratic Party is out of touch with the American people, and you will see a transformation of the political landscape next week.”
Duarte, a 56-year-old farmer and businessman in Modesto, said he has never seen America go this “hard left this fast.”
“We need domestic energy. We need water on the farms. We need people to get up and go to work in the morning. We need to cut down the government spending and printing money that’s causing inflation,” Duarte told The Daily Signal in a phone interview.
I feel as someone who’s had some success in business and the community that this is what the lower house of Congress is for. It’s for people who’ve developed their experience and their reputations and relationships in their community to go to Congress and represent their community in Washington, D.C.
Duarte also discussed what he believes is contributing to the competitiveness of his race against Gray.
“We’re on message. I mean, I’m from this community. I run a business in the Valley here. I was born in the Valley. I raised my kids in the Valley. I got in this race because I felt I had a very clear understanding of what the constituents in the 13th District needed, and we’ve been communicating to that,” Duarte said.
“We need to drill American oil. We need to get water on the farms, and we need to control the high cost of living,” he said. “And it’s a very simple messaging, but it’s something we started with back in March when we began the campaign.”
I think nationwide that’s kind of the message you’re hearing now. I think we were on target with our focus and our messaging right from the very beginning.
Again, because I’m a businessman. I’m a family man. I’m from the Valley. I understood.
Torunn Sinclair, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said Gray is a “corrupt Sacramento politician who caused the price of everything to increase.”
“Californians struggling to afford gas and groceries will remember on Election Day that Adam Gray voted to raise California’s gas tax,” Sinclair told The Daily Signal in an email.
Gray currently represents California State Assembly District 21, a spot he has held since 2012, and his term ends on Dec. 5, 2022.
Gray, who did not respond to The Daily Signal’s interview and comment requests, “is focused on what matters most to the residents of the San Joaquin Valley: health, education, public safety, jobs, and water,” according to his campaign website.
“[Gray] was elected by his colleagues to lead the New Democratic Caucus and founded the California Problem Solvers Caucus which brings Democrats, Republicans, and independents together to address California’s most critical issues including homelessness, the pandemic, and drought,” his campaign website said.
The website also said:
[Gray] has led the fight against the State Water Grab. He bucked his own party leaders by advancing legislation to block the water grab and organized the largest water rights rally the State Capitol has ever seen. His efforts paid off when the chief architect of the water grab was removed from the board.
Standing shoulder to shoulder with Democratic and Republican lawmakers from the Valley, [Gray] also delivered nearly $3 billion to build new water storage, $200 million to repair aging canals, and $60 million to bolster groundwater basins.
California congressional districts 47 and 49 are also rated as “toss ups” for Democrats, according to The Cook Political Report. Similarly, California congressional districts 22 and 27 are rated as “toss ups,” Fox News reported.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which did not respond to The Daily Signal’s interview requests, said that California’s 13th Congressional District is “frustrated” by both Republican and Democrat politicians.
“This district is overwhelmingly negative about the direction of the country and frustrated with politicians on both sides of the aisle – in particular with regards to the economy, and inflation,” the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said on its website.
“John Duarte is not one of us – He’s so arrogant that he thinks he is above the law and only cares about himself – not Valley families,” the website said.
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