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Pelosi protege backs primary winners in GOP-held, Dem-leaning California districts

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(The Center Square) – House Democratic Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar, D-Redlands, backed the Democratic primary winners in key Republican-held, Democrat-leaning California districts he says are securing the “path to the House majority” for the Democratic Party in the 2024 elections. Personally mentored by Congresswoman and former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, Aguilar has been described as “the future of the party.”

Aguilar launched California House Majority Fund, which has raised $207,418 since last July. Through this political action committee, Aguilar is personally shaping and supporting the next potential crop of Congressional Democrats. The PAC supported four Democratic primary candidates, who all won their March 5 primary elections, each with tens of thousands of dollars. According to the Cook Partisan Voting Index, which averages an area’s presidential vote in the last two presidential elections, these districts have moderate to strong Democratic leanings, despite being occupied by Republican members of Congress.

“With only five seats needed to take back the House, it’s critical that Democrats running in these districts have the resources they need to win,” says the PAC’s website.

The PAC’s recipients were Rudy Salas, George Whitesides, Will Rollins, and Adam Gray.

Salas served as a California Assemblymember for a decade and is running against Congressman David Valadeo, R-Hanford, who narrowly won re-election in 2022 in his D+5 district. Salas received $37,563 from the PAC in his race against Valadeo, who voted to impeach former president Donald Trump and placed just 11 points ahead of a more conservative Republican in the primary. With Republicans receiving a combined 55% of the vote in the primary and Democrats 45%, Valadeo has a solid chance at maintaining his seat.

Whitesides, former CEO of private space corporation Virgin Galactic, received $33,161 is running against Congressman Mike Garcia, D-Santa Clarita, who won by just 333 votes in 2020 in the D+4 district. Garcia was one of the small number of Republicans who voted in favor of the Respect for Marriage Act, which codified the right to same-sex marriage in federal law. Garcia earned 57% of the primary vote with the two Democrats securing just 43%, suggesting Whitesides faces a major uphill battle in the general election.

Rollins, a former federal prosecutor, is again running against Congressman Ken Calvert, R-Corona, his opponent in the 2022 general election. Rollins picked up $30,705 from the PAC, earning 41% of the primary vote compared to Calvert’s 50% and Democrat Anna Nevenic’s 9%. Calvert, who serves in a D+12 district and also voted for the Respect for Marriage Act, is the most vulnerable Republican targeted by the PAC.

Gray, who received $26,039, also spent a decade as a California Assemblymember and is running against Congressman John Duarte, R-Modesto, in a D+4 district. Duarte defeated Gray in 2022 by just 564 votes, and is the most unconventional Republican on the list. Duarte was one of the only Republicans to vote against Republican-led bills to ban Department of Defense funding for sex reassignment surgeries and gender hormone treatments for transgender individuals, and abortion. Duarte describes himself as “immigration fluid” and says he supports President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Gray earned 46% of the primary vote compared to Duarte’s 54%, leaving him with another more challenging race.

While Democrats have historically benefited from higher turnout elections due to greater popularity with lower propensity voters who come out only for presidential elections, empirical studies suggest this may no longer be the case.

“In 2016, 2018, and 2020, the Democratic Party sees a much smaller gain in vote share as simulated turnout increases, but also a large vote share advantage when voter turnout is extremely low,” wrote researchers in a 2023 peer-reviewed paper. “These results indicate that continued party realignment along the lines of education could lead to a persistent reversal in the expected partisan effect of turnout—where Democrats perform better in low-turnout local or primary elections and Republicans perform better in high-turnout general elections.”

Should these trends continue, it’s possible all four Republicans could do better than they did in their primary elections due to Republicans’ gain of low-propensity presidential-year voters in the post-Trump era.

Republican gains within just the last year among Hispanic voters could also swing these elections even more strongly towards the GOP. According to a recent New York Times poll, 46% of Hispanic voters now support Trump, while 40% support President Biden. In 2020, approximately 60% of Hispanic Americans voted for Biden. With California now 40% Hispanic, Biden’s loss of a third of his Hispanic voters could translate to a 13 percentage point decline for Democrats in California.

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