Seeking to capitalize on the higher turnout of a presidential contest, and the unpopularity of Donald Trump in the state, Democrats hoped to add seats to California’s congressional delegation.
But early vote counts indicated those efforts to take what the party hoped were vulnerable Republican seats were universally unsuccessful.
The 49th District, which stretches between San Diego and Orange counties, is one of the most competitive. Early returns show a close race, with eight-term incumbent Republican Darrell Issa holding a nearly 4-point lead over Democratic challenger Doug Applegate.
Applegate brought a surprisingly strong challenge to his eight-term opponent, pressuring Issa over his support of Trump. The race has also featured nasty back-and-forth exchanges over Applegate’s marriage and Issa’s business dealings.
In the Central Valley, Democrats are targeting two seats that Republicans have held despite a voter registration disadvantage. In the 10th Congressional District around Modesto, two-term incumbent Jeff Denham is defending his seat against Democrat challenger Michael Eggman, a beekeeper who ran for the same seat in 2014. That year, Denham turned a one-point registration deficit into a 12-point victory. This year the contest is expected to be closer, due in part to Denham’s support of Trump, which has drawn local criticism.
He held a 4-point lead over Eggman at 10 p.m. Tuesday night.
"We received overwhelming support and it’s very humbling," Denham said. "I’m very encouraged."
In the 25th District, north of Los Angeles, Democratic attorney Bryan Caforio was expected to make a showing against incumbent Republican Steve Knight, who edged past fellow Republican Tony Strickland to win his first term in 2014. Knight dropped his support of Donald Trump in early October after the release of a recording with Trump making lewd comments about women, and as of 10 p.m., he led Caforio by almost 10 points.
In the 21st Congressional District, Rep. David Valadao took a different approach with the presidential contest: He broke with Trump in June, and said he “cannot support either candidate.” Democrats outnumber Republicans by a huge margin in the district, but came away sorely disappointed after Valadao cruised to victory in 2014. The Democrats' latest challenger, Emilio Huerta, a civil rights attorney and son of United Farm Workers co-founder Dolores Huerta, appeared to be faring no better Tuesday night. Valadao held a 16.5-point lead.
But it's not all bad news for California Democrats. The party's incumbent, Ami Bera, looked to be fending off Republican challenger and Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones in the 7th Congressional District, in Sacramento County. Returns after 10 p.m. showed Bera up by nearly 10 points.
Bera has had to fight off attacks connected to his father’s violation of election laws that resulted in a one-year prison sentence. He tried on the campaign trail and in debates to tie Jones to Donald Trump. Jones supported Trump until early October, when the video of the Republican presidential candidate's lewd conversation surfaced.
Another seat that Republicans hoped to add to their column is in Santa Barbara, where Democrat Lois Capps is retiring after 18 years in Congress. Democratic county supervisor Salud Carbajal was leading in the 24th District race, however, besting Republican businessman Justin Fareed by over 5 points in early returns. The race was one of the most expensive contests in the country.