The race for Los Angeles’ hotly contested congressional district was never called, but Democrat Kristi Smith felt she would end up on the losing end. And I felt like there was a clear reason for that.
Our campaign got zero external resources to fight this fight. In fact, I’ve been fighting the institutional strength of my party since the start of this race,” Smith said in a series of scathing remarks on Twitter. With no help on the airwaves and few DPCs and PACs, “we didn’t stand a chance.”
Smith is no different from dozens of other candidates who believe they would have won were it not for stingy support from Washington. But her unusually frank remarks on Sunday highlighted the stark turn of events in the campaign for California’s 27th district — a contest in which Democrats were expected to make an all-out effort to unseat incumbent Rep. Mike Garcia after barely winning for two years. early.
“This is a huge failure on their part,” said political consultant Brandon Zavala, who ran Smith’s 2020 campaign but did not run in this year’s race. We’re looking here for a Biden Plus 12 [district] Which we’re about to hand over to the Republicans.”
The usual post-election second guessing of spending decisions has intensified in the wake of Democrats outperforming expectations in this midterm election. Instead of losing control of the House of Representatives in a single defeat, the party nearly held the GOP even, with the Republicans now likely on their way to a simple majority. Now, every spending decision in close races in California and across the country could have tipped the balance just enough for Democrats to keep the House in control.
Veterans of past midterm elections warned that such a chair-back misses the full picture of how parties decide where to allocate resources.
“In hindsight in any election, the easiest thing to say is, ‘I wish I had done more than X,’” said Jesse Ferguson, a Democratic strategist and former senior official with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. I’ll do a little Y “to pay for it.”
Smith’s problems highlighted a particular challenge for candidates running in the Los Angeles media market, where it can be very expensive to reach voters via television. In a year when Democrats have been playing defense across the country, the party has chosen to stay out of the Los Angeles broadcast market altogether — a decision that has been echoed by closely watched congressional races.
In Orange County, Democrat Jay Chin was an outspenter of about $5 million, according to AdImpact, a company that tracks television and digital ads, in his failed bid to unseat Republican Representative Michelle Steele, who received millions of dollars in aid from the House GOP. Campaign arm and allied external groups. Republican Rep. Young Kim had about $500,000 more in advertising than her Democratic rival, Asif Mahmood, whom she handily defeated.
Democratic Rep. Katie Porter, who remains locked in a close rivalry with Republican challenger Scott Bowe in Orange County, also didn’t get any advertising help from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, though her fundraising drive means she has plenty of cash to spend on her opponent. . In Riverside County, Will Rollins, the Democrat who challenged Republican incumbent Ken Calvert, had a slight edge on the air, but his unexpectedly narrow loss made some allies wonder if more partisan help could make a difference.
With increased investment from the party leadership, the Democrats could have turned around [seat]. The liberal nonprofit group Square One said in a statement: “We hope the close nature of this race will lead to meaningful investment in this district – and in high-achieving candidates like Will – moving forward.”
The Rollins and Mahmoud campaigns declined to comment on partisan spending decisions. A spokesperson for Chen praised DCCC’s help to reach multicultural voters in the region, including digital ads in Vietnamese, Korean and Mandarin. “While the outcome in this race did not quite go as we had hoped, DCCC…was a committed partner,” said spokesman Orrin Evans.
Los Angeles is one of the most expensive media markets in the country even before an influx of ads for the city’s mayoral race and statewide gaming initiatives drove up prices.
Sheri Sadler, a veteran Democratic media buyer, said the market was too expensive to place ads in Los Angeles for state comptroller candidate Malia Cohen. “You have to have a war chest in LA; that’s just the way it is,” Sadler said, adding that the effectiveness of broadcast advertising is declining as viewing habits change.
“The prices keep going up and the ratings keep going down,” she said.
Drew Godenich, a Democratic strategist, said that costly media markets can “act as protective bubbles for incumbents.”
“For competing candidates, this is a huge barrier to entry — the cost of first positively identifying yourself, and then identifying your opponent, is almost too high,” said Gudenich, who worked at DCCC in California in 2018.
Nowhere was the party’s absence more acute than in the 27th congressional district, which includes Santa Clarita, the Antelope Valley, and parts of the San Fernando Valley. The once staunchly Republican area has become more Democratic as Los Angeles residents move there in search of affordable housing. Redistricting—the redrawing of congressional maps every decade after the census—has made the area bluer by eradicating the conservative Simi Valley.
Garcia easily beat Smith in a special election in 2020 and by just 333 votes for a full term later that year. In that election, Smith, along with the DCCC and House Majority PAC of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), spent nearly $10 million.
Shortly after winning re-election, Garcia joined 146 other House Republicans in objecting to the full count of Electoral College votes, an effort to overturn Biden’s presidential victory. The vote came just hours after Trump supporters stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6.
The Republican has maintained a conservative voting record: He opposed impeachment of President Trump for his role in the rebellion, and voted against citizenship for “Dreamers” and participant-sponsored legislation that would effectively ban abortions nationwide.
But he also worked on issues tailored to the region, particularly regarding military families and veterans—a powerful problem in a region with deep ties to the armed forces and the airline industry. His ads highlighted his background as a former Navy fighter pilot and focused on financial issues such as cutting taxes.
Smith said, in an interview, that she lacked the money to tell voters about Garcia’s record, a message she believes could have turned the race around.
“It definitely would have made a difference,” Smith said, adding that she was being “beaten” on television by groups outside the Republican Party. “There would have been a lot more to connect with if we had the resources to communicate.”
With the district likely to be the “turning point for the House contract,” Smith said on Twitter, “the utter lack of investment makes no sense.”
Smith also criticized the national Democrats for recruiting former Navy intelligence officer John Quay Quartey to run against her in the primary. (The Quartey campaign declined to comment on the case, as did DCCC.) Smith said she and her allies had to spend heavily in the primary to defeat Quartey, who ultimately received single-digit support.
Garcia and Republican groups spent more than $7 million on ads between Labor Day and Election Day, while Smith spent less than $1 million; Democratic allies have spent less than $50,000 on digital advertising, according to AdImpact.
This year, the House Majority PAC booked $3.3 million in TV time in Los Angeles, but canceled it, as they have at other races around the country. A spokesman for the commission did not respond to a request for comment.
DCCC did not withhold a dime. A spokeswoman said the committee faced unprecedented spending by Republican groups.
“We had to make rigorous calls and invest fully in candidates we believed would not only come close, but win in tough races in California and nationwide,” said Maddie Mundy, a DCCC spokeswoman.
The National Republican Congressional Committee and the Congressional Leadership Fund, which have spent heavily promoting Garcia, did not respond to requests for comment. Nor did Garcia’s campaign.
As of Tuesday evening, the Associated Press had not called the race. The Republicans remained on the brink of capturing the majority of the House of Representatives, needing only one victory.
Garcia declared victory the day after the election and commended Smith for “jumping in the ring again”.
While Smith hasn’t conceded, she concedes that the prospect of overcoming Garcia’s lead is unlikely. She said in an interview that she felt it was important to speak up before the start of the race.
“I wanted to get the narrative out at a time when I hope it didn’t look sour grapes,” said Smith. “Regardless of the outcome of this particular race, I still have a responsibility as a state Democratic leader to highlight areas where we can do better.”
Jacob Rubashkin, an analyst with Inside Elections, a nonpartisan campaign newsletter, said he sympathized with Smith, but also understood why the national Democrats pulled out.
“You have to think about any Democrat who loses which Democratic district a Republican wins even though Joe Biden carries it in double digits should be considered a missed opportunity,” he said. “But I am not at all surprised by this outcome.”
He said Smith’s history in the region made clear the party’s decisions.
“I think the Democrats took a look at 2020, when Joe Biden won a race [district] By 11 points or so, they spent $10 million backing Christy Smith in an effort to beat Mike Garcia. Then it came short. Then they looked at the way her campaign has been going over the summer. And they sorted. “They decided that the money would be better spent elsewhere,” said Rubashkin.
The grumbling about missed opportunities is a product of the Democrats’ success, said Ferguson, a DCCC veteran, because any single race can be decisive in the close fight for the House majority.
“In a narrow election, an autopsy is a collection of can-be, should-could-be things. In an election wave, an autopsy is a collection of ‘shyness,’” he said. “In a landslide election, there is no concern about small changes that might make a difference.”