How Vulnerable are Districts Hillary Clinton Won? Preliminary Analysis of California By Luke Perry and Paul Joyce
The Utica College Center for Public Affairs recently began analyzing all 23 GOP controlled House districts won by Hillary Clinton in 2016 with an eye on 2018. Only one of the three Texas seats appears to be particularly vulnerable at this point. The seven House seats in California are “center stage” in the battle for the House next year, but pose some similar challenges for Democrats.
Hillary Clinton won each of these districts handily with the exception of CA-48 in Orange County, decided by 1.7 percent of the vote, and CA-10 in the Northern San Joaquin Valley, where Clinton won by 3 percent. The margin of victory in the other five districts ranged from 5 points (CA-45) to 15.5 points (CA-21).
These totals may not spell trouble for GOP incumbents, many of whom won by significant margins themselves. Four, in fact, won 57 percent of the vote or greater. The two closest victories were those of Jeff Denham (CA-10) who won by three points and Darrell Issa (CA-49) who won by just six tenths of a point.
Incumbency advantage is powerful. 97 percent of House incumbents were reelected in 2016. This was slightly higher than the post-World War II average of 94 percent. The history of these districts demonstrate how many have traditionally been held by Republicans. Several have been under Republican control for decades, including District 21 (36 years), District 45 (34 years), District 25 (24 years), and District 47 (14 years).
At this point, Darrell Issa (CA-49) and Jeff Denham (CA-10) appear to be most vulnerable given their slight margins of victory, coupled in Issa’s case, with a comfortable Clinton victory. Though Issa recently experienced a contentious town hall meeting, he has been reelected eight times, including during the 2006 Democratic wave election. Denham has been reelected twice and Clinton just narrowly won his district.
The California Seven, as they are known, have effectively localized their campaigns, enabling them to navigate difficult national political trends. A big difference this time is that all seven voted for The American Healthcare Care Act, supporting Majority Leader and fellow Californian Kevin McCarthy. Healthcare could be a pivotal consideration, along with whether Democrats experience their typical midterm turnout dip, which is in question given strong anti-Trump enthusiasm on the left.
The Democrats are posed to make electoral gains from an unpopular president whose party typically loses seats during midterms. That said, the details of if, how, and where a Democratic House majority emerges remain murky at best. California is certainly worth following, but a clean sweep is unlikely at this point.
Luke Perry (@PolSciLukePerry) is Professor of Government at Utica College. His column Sound Off! critiques various aspects of American politics.
Paul Joyce is an MPA Candidate at the University of Albany.