Scramble for Ed Royce’s Congressional Seat

Scott Lay
Publisher of The Nooner

Thirteen-term congressman Ed Royce will retire at the end of this term, opening up a wide-open race in a competitive district, reports Martin Wisckol in the Register. While several “insiders” repeatedly promised that he would not retire, there were hints that he would.

Like Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) on Judiciary, Royce hits the GOP’s term limits on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. While Republicans are still favored to keep the House (perhaps barely), moving from the chairman’s seat to a lower seniority position is not something generally found desirable. Similarly, some of the retirements are also members being uncertain about the outcome of House control.

Elena Schneider reports in Politico “In total, seven GOP committee chairs are either retiring or — in the case of Tennessee’s Diane Black, the former chair of the Budget Committee — seeking another office.”

Royce had $3.4 million on hand as of September 30. He can contribute all of that to party committees that can then spend it on a Republican running in the general in CA39 or other congressional districts.

Here is the district map with AD overlays (residency, however, is not required).

Some demographics (h/t @rpyers – research director for California Target Book)

  • Overall Registered Voters (RV) – 34.4% D, 36.1% R, 25.5% NPP (as of 02/10/2017)
  • Asian – 20% of RV (29% D, 25% R, 43% NPP)
  • Latino – 25% of RV (50% D, 23% R, 23% NPP)

With Royce’s exit, there are now eight Democrats and two “no party preference” candidates. However, there will be at least one Republican and there will be an effort to keep at only one to ensure the GOP has someone on the general election ballot next year. Here are some of the highest profile possible Republican candidates:

  • Scott Baugh is a former state assemblyman and former chair of the Orange County Republican Party. He lives in Huntington Beach, but district residency is not required for the U.S. House of Representatives. He’s been raising money in the event Dana Rohrabacher doesn’t run for re-election and had $545,403 on hand as of September 30.
  • Ling-Ling Chang is a former state assemblywoman from Fullerton in AD55 who is currently a candidate in the recall election of Democratic Senator Josh Newman (D-SD29), which is expected to be on June 5.
  • Phillip Chen is a first-term assemblyman representing the eastern part of CA39. He came to the Assembly as a board member of the Walnut Valley Unified School District, a former aide to LA supervisor Michael Antonovich, and a reserve sheriff’s deputy.
  • Bob Huff is a former state assemblymember and senator from Diamond Bar and served as the Senate Republican Leader before being termed-out.
  • Young Kim is a former state assemblywoman from Fullerton in AD65 and a longtime aide to Congressman Royce. She is currently running for the Fourth District on the Orange County Board of Supervisors in the June 5 election.
  • Shawn Nelson is a ending his time as a member of the Orange County Board of Supervisors (Young Kim is running for his seat) and is a former Fullerton City Councilmember.
  • Janet Nguyen is a state senator from Fountain Valley who has served as a county supervisor and previously served on the Garden Grove City Council. Like Baugh, she lives out of CA39.
  • Tim Shaw is mayor of La Habra and a former district director for Senator Bob Huff, policy advisor for then-supervisor Janet Nguyen, and policy assistant to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. He is currently government affairs director for the Pacific West Association of Realtors and is an adjunct professor at Rio Hondo College.

The respected Cook Political Report moved the district from Leans Republican to Leans Democratic. I went from Leans Republican to Toss-up because of the “top-two” primary. If there are eight Democrats–half of whom are well resourced and only two Republicans, it is very possible that two Republicans advance to November.

If we look at the math from the June 2016 primary, we’ll see that Democrats combined garnered 55.9% of the Dem+GOP vote, and Republicans captured 44.1%. Democratic turnout in the primary was propelled by the contentious primary within the party, while Donald Trump pretty much had it wrapped up (he received 73.8% of the vote in CA39) by the time primary season reached the Golden State.

Despite the enthusiasm on the Democratic side in 2018, we would normally expect a midterm drop, particularly in the primary. Additionally, the SD29 recall election will be on the ballot June 5 along with the regular statewide primary. How this will drive turnout by either party is an unknown.

I would thus expect a similar 56%/44% Dem/GOP split on June 5. If the top three resourced candidatesAndy ThorburnGil Cisneros, and Mai-Khanh Tran–split 80% of that anticipated Democratic vote, the average vote per candidate would be around 19,500. Phil Janowicz is shopping a poll showing him in the lead among likely voters, although he and Sam Jammal, while in the margin of error, are far behind in fundraising–at least until the January 31 reports come out. Anyway, add him and the math gets even worse for Democrats.

Mt. San Antonio College trustee Jay Chen, who was the candidate against Royce in 2012, is reportedly in the race, making the math even scarier for Democrats.

Of the well funded districts, most have significant personal contributions/loans. This makes it very hard to drop out. Paying back your loans rather than refunding contributions is political suicide for the future.

If there is only one Republican, obviously, a Democrat will advance to November. However, if there are two and they come anywhere near splitting the anticipated GOP vote evenly, they would each receive nearly 29,000 vote.

Thus, it’s still very possible that the seat stays in the GOP column, and it all depends on how many Republicans get in the race. Democrats want only one Republican or three or more Republicans–the best way to ensure a seat at the table in November.

Because of these uncertainties, the race has to be seen as a Toss-up until we have a better understanding of the content and quality of the GOP field.

While several of the congressional races targeted by Democrats are likely to have crowded fields, only CA39 thus far doesn’t have an incumbent. Thus makes it uniquely problematic for Democrats under top-two.

Comment on this article

Please note, statements and opinions expressed on the Fox&Hounds Blog are solely those of their respective authors and may not represent the views of Fox&Hounds Daily or its employees thereof. Fox&Hounds Daily is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the site's bloggers.