LOS ANGELES – Candidates across California knocked on voters’ doors and pleaded for support at rallies in a late-hour campaign push Monday, hoping to sway the outcome in races that will play into control of the U.S. House, determine the next mayor of Los Angeles and test the longstanding Democratic grip on the nation’s most populous state.
Vice President Kamala Harris campaigned on behalf of Democratic candidates at the University of California, Los Angeles, where she sought to inspire turnout in a midterm election year when the party in the White House historically loses seats in Congress.
California has a string of competitive congressional races that will play into House control, with Democrats defending their fragile majority. Harris also put in a pitch for Los Angeles mayoral candidate Karen Bass, a Democratic congresswoman who joined her on stage and could become the first woman and second Black person to hold the city's top job.
With Republicans appearing poised to take control of the House and possibly the Senate, Harris warned of a continuing threat to reproductive rights nationwide, after the Supreme Court in June stripped away women’s constitutional protections for abortion. Echoing President Joe Biden, she also touted legislative victories that will provide more money for water and transportation projects, and warned of threats to democracy with the country politically divided.
“We know elections matter, and the stakes remain high,” Harris, a former California attorney general, told the cheering crowd. “When we fight, we win.”
There is little suspense in marquee races on the ballot: Gov. Gavin Newsom and U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla, both Democrats, are heavily favored to capture new terms after facing only token opposition from Republican rivals.
But with Biden unpopular nationally and voters pessimistic about the direction of the nation and the economy, there was a chance for House upsets even in strongly Democratic California, where the party holds every statewide office and dominates the Legislature and congressional delegation.
The Legislature was expected to remain firmly in Democratic hands, and Democrats were favored in contests for statewide offices.
The last Republican to win a statewide election in California was in 2006.
The threat of foul weather across California posed a possible challenge for Republicans, who were expected to see a large Election Day turnout at polling places after former President Donald Trump’s repeated, unfounded attacks on the security of mail ballots and election integrity.
Election Day also could provide hints about the future for Newsom and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
In recent months Newsom has fanned speculation about a possible presidential run if President Joe Biden changes direction and doesn’t seek a second term. The governor is looking for a commanding victory Tuesday, which could provide a springboard for his next step.
There also is widespread conjecture about 82-year-old Pelosi’s future if Democrats lose the House. She is expected to easily win reelection in her San Francisco district, though some speculate it could be her last term. She spoke for the first time Monday about the assault on her husband at the family’s home in San Francisco.
At a weekend rally in Long Beach, Newsom urged Democrats to shake off doubt and passivity and go to the polls.
“Don’t be pessimistic,” Newsom said. “We can turn this country around.”
In Los Angeles, Bass and rival Rick Caruso made their closing arguments, with Bass joining Harris at the UCLA rally and Caruso continuing a bus tour through the city’s neighborhoods.
With City Hall in the midst of a racism scandal that led to the resignation of the former City Council president, and over 40,000 homeless people on the streets, Bass is the Democratic establishment favorite, while Republican-turned-Democrat Caruso is testing if the city might take a turn to the political right and expand the police department.
“Is everybody going to get your ballot in?” Bass asked at the UCLA rally, setting off a peal of cheers. “We have a crisis in our city.”
Ads were running nonstop on television. In one, Bass appears with former President Barack Obama. Another spotlights the third consecutive race between U.S. Rep. Mike Garcia against Democrat Christy Smith, in a district north of Los Angeles.
Competitive House districts are something of a rarity in heavily Democratic California and cut against its national reputation as a liberal stronghold. But pockets of conservative strength remain, even as Democrats hold a commanding edge in voter registrations – nearly 2-to-1 statewide.
In a closely matched race in a district anchored in Orange County between Rep. Michelle Steel, a South Korean immigrant, and Democrat Jay Chen, a Navy reservist and the son of immigrants from Taiwan, Steel spent the final full day of campaigning reaching out to voters.
“She is knocking on doors, she is working the phones,” said campaign adviser Lance Trover. She posted photos on Twitter showing her visiting homes with Jessica Millan Patterson, chairwoman of the state GOP.
“It’s time to get inflation under control, crack down on crime and lower gas prices for working-class families,” Steel wrote.
Chen posted a photo of himself in a room crowded with volunteers, getting ready for a precinct walk. He urged supporters to “sign up for one more shift” to knock on doors in the district.
Endangered Democratic Rep. Katie Porter, who is locked in a toss-up race with Republican Scott Baugh in Orange County, urged supporters to get their ballots in.
“We can win this,” she wrote on Twitter. “Be sure to remind your friends and neighbors to make their voices heard!”