CA-25 Special Election: Republican Mike Garcia Ahead In Race To Replace Katie Hill In Congress

Republican Mike Garcia and Democrat Christy Smith met in an online forum held by the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce in April. (Santa Clarita Valley Chamber Of Commerce)

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Republican Mike Garcia, a former Navy fighter pilot, took an early lead over Democratic Assemblywoman Christy Smith Tuesday night in the special election to fill the House seat left vacant when ex-Rep. Katie Hill resigned from Congress last fall.

You can check the latest official totals here on the Secretary of State's website.

Voters in the 25th district, which spans parts of northern L.A. County and eastern Ventura County, have been casting their ballots for weeks, ever since Governor Newsom ordered the county to expand voting by mail to every registered voter in the area, as a safety precaution due to COVID-19.

Hill won the district during the "blue wave" of 2018. But she resigned ten months into her term after intimate photos of her were published online without her consent, and a House Ethics committee investigation started looking into an alleged affair with a staff member.

Raytheon executive Garcia had been leading Smith in early mail-in ballot returns.

But with many outstanding ballots still to be tallied, Garcia was not ready to declare himself the winner after polls closed.

"I won't give a victory speech tonight," Garcia said on a conference call with supporters and members of the media. But he added
, "it is looking extremely good."

On Wednesday, the Garcia campaign released a statement indicating it was poised to declare victory.

Smith released a statement thanking volunteers — and urging patience.

"I am extremely grateful for the support our campaign has received from every corner of this district," Smith said. "The outcome of this race remains too early to call."

She added she plans to return to work in Sacramento on Wednesday.

The nonpartisan election analysis shop, Political Data Inc., has been tracking the number of Republican, Democratic, and "other" (including no party preference) ballots that county election officials have processed in the weeks leading up to May 12.

Prior to election day, Republicans led Democrats in ballot returns by 14 points.

Counting the vote in California is slow by design. Ballots can be postmarked up to and including election day, and will be counted as long as they arrive by Friday May 15. There will also be a block of in-person ballots to be counted, including provisional ballots, which have to be verified by election workers, and take longer to process.

In the 2018 midterms, it took almost two weeks for the Associated Press to call a winner in the 39th congressional district in Orange County, when Democrat Gil Cisneros managed to scrape by with a win against Republican Young Kim, who led on election night.

As of Election Day, over 144,000 mail-in ballots had been returned in the 25th district race. That puts it on pace to match or exceed the March 3rd primary election turnout, which saw roughly 161,000 votes cast, or a 38% turnout.

There were also about a dozen in-person voting centers in the district available for people who lost their ballots, wanted to register or change parties, or needed special accommodations to vote.

Workers at L.A. County voting sites cleaned ballot marking machines, tables, and even ballpoint pens before and after each use, while enforcing social distancing.

"We have sanitizers, we have Clorox wipes, we're here to provide gloves and masks if needed," Palmdale vote center election worker Steven Toro said earlier this month, when vote centers opened.

The Cook Political Report rated Smith and Garcia's chances a "toss-up." If Garcia pulls off a victory, this would be the first time a Republican has captured a Democratic House seat in California since 1998.

No matter who wins the seat for the next seven months, it will be short-lived. The remainder of Hill's term expires in Jan. 2021.

Smith and Garcia are slated to meet again in the November general election to compete for a full two-year term.

This post was last updated at 12:32 PM Wednesday with a statement from Mike Garcia.