CAMARILLO, Calif. – Democrat Christy Smith conceded victory Wednesday to Republican Mike Garcia in a nationally watched California congressional special election.
Garcia now fills a seat vacated in November when Democrat Katie Hill resigned amid allegations of inappropriate relationships with staff members. The term expires in January.
“While it's critical that we ensure every vote is counted and recorded, we believe that the current tally shows Mike Garcia is the likely victor in the May 12th election,” Smith said in a statement. “As such, I'd like to congratulate him.”
Garcia and Smith will face off again on Nov. 3.
Katie Hill, a Democrat from California's 25th district, resigned following allegations she had an inappropriate sexual relationship with staffers.
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Hours earlier, Garcia declared victory.
“After seeing more results last night, it is clear that our message of lower taxes and ensuring we don’t take liberal Sacramento dysfunction to Washington prevailed,” Garcia said in a written statement. “I’m ready to go to work right away for the citizens of the 25th Congressional District.”
Garcia, a former Navy fighter pilot, had a 12-point edge over Smith in Tuesday’s special election, which was conducted almost totally by mail because of COVID-19. An unknown number of ballots remained uncounted. Los Angeles County, where most of them are located, was not expected to update its tally until Friday.
With more than 143,000 votes counted Tuesday night, Garcia held 56% of the vote. Smith, a state assemblywoman from Santa Clarita, had 44% and trailed by more than 17,000 votes.
More than 420,000 ballots were mailed to voters in Los Angeles and Ventura counties for the election and more are expected to arrive at election offices later this week. They need to be postmarked no later than Tuesday's election day.
“After election day, there are still many outstanding ballots to be counted,” Los Angeles County officials said in a news release, referring to incoming vote by mail ballots, conditional and provisional ballots. They said their next vote-count update would be Friday.
Garcia and Smith will compete again in the November election for a full two-year term. The 25th District runs from Santa Clarita to Simi Valley with about 70,000 registered voters in Ventura County and more than 350,000 in Los Angeles County.
It’s a swing district held by Republicans since 1993 until Hill claimed it for the Democrats in 2018. The concession means the office will be the first California congressional seat flipped from Democrats to Republicans in 22 years.
“We did make history today and hopefully the confirmation of the results will prove that out very shortly,” Garcia said in a teleconference Tuesday night that also featured former Gov. Pete Wilson and former congressmen Elton Gallegly and Buck McKeon.
The battle has attracted attention from some of the biggest names in both parties. President Donald Trump endorsed Garcia and criticized Smith in tweets.
Smith was endorsed by former President Barack Obama and the candidate Trump defeated in 2016, Hillary Clinton.
In a Wednesday morning tweet, Trump called the election “a big Congressional win in California for Mike Garcia.”
Big Congressional win in California for Mike Garcia, taking back a seat from the Democrats. This is the first time in many years that a California Dem seat has flipped back to a Republican. Also, Tom Tiffany beat his Democrat rival BIG in Wisconsin. Two great Congressional WINS!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 13, 2020
Garcia, who flew combat missions in Iraq, has built a career in aerospace including 10 years at Raytheon. In his first run for public office, he has campaigned for tax cuts, term limits in Congress, protecting national security and preventing California's liberal policies from emerging nationwide.
“I don’t want my nation to become what this state has become, which is a victim of poor policy and poor execution,” he said in a virtual debate held with Smith in April.
Two years ago, Smith won election to the 38th Assembly District, defeating Republican incumbent Dante Acosta. Before that she served nine years on the Newhall School Board.
“I have 10 years of proven results in this community,” she said at the debate, emphasizing an approach of collective conversations that involve every corner of the communities she represents. “Everyone gets a seat at the table.”
She has campaigned on improving education, ending corruption in federal government and using a public insurance option to make health care more affordable.
The high profile election changed dramatically with the emergence of COVID-19. In March, Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered election officials in Ventura and Los Angeles counties to mail ballots to every registered voter.
State officials also required in-person voting options aimed at unregistered voters and others who can't or won't vote by mail. About 500 voters cast ballots in person at two sites in Ventura County, both in Simi. More than a half-dozen sites were set up in Los Angeles County.
Some people cast ballots from their vehicles after being given ballots by election workers in masks and gloves. Others used a computer touch-screen that was cleaned after every use.
Some observers portray the race as a preview of election battles to be decided in November. Tim Allison, CSU Channel Islands political scientist, thinks any message being sent has been altered by the pandemic.
“It’s more of a referendum of whether people are paying attention to politics with everything else going on in their lives,” he said. “People are trying to figure out how to home-school their children. They’re trying to figure out where their next paycheck is. … We're in a very different scenario, a very different world.”
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