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Democrat Christy Smith Concedes, Republican Mike Garcia Captures Historic Win For GOP In Katie Hill's Former District

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Instead of preparing for a new job in congress, Democratic Assemblymember Christy Smith is going back to work in Sacramento. Her political opponent, former Navy pilot Mike Garcia, is poised to be the first Republican to flip a Democratic House seat in California since 1998.

"[W]e believe that the current tally shows Mike Garcia is the likely victor in the May 12th special election. As such, I'd like to congratulate him," Smith said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.

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"That said, this is only one step in this process, and I look forward to having a vigorous debate about the issues in the upcoming November 2020 election," she added.

The race to replace former Rep. Katie Hill, who resigned in October, included fierce attack ads on television and accusations of a "rigged" election from the White House. Each campaign raised more than $2 million, and scooped up high-level endorsements.

With votes still being tallied by Ventura and Los Angeles County election officials, the math appeared impossible for Smith to win. Garcia jumped out to a lead of more than 17,000 votes on election night. The total number of outstanding ballots is still in flux but based on the turnout during the March primary, the Democrat would have to capture an overwhelming number of votes remaining to beat him.


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"I'm ready to go to work right away for the citizens of the 25th Congressional District," Garcia said in a statement. "These are difficult times, and too much is at stake -- our small businesses, our workers and our families need all the help they can get."

Democrats will be disappointed with this outcome: They hold close to a seven-point voter registration advantage in the 25th District. Hill won the seat by nine points in 2018. Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump here by seven points.

The electorate for a special election typically skews more conservative. Republicans' base of older and white voters can be relied on to vote more consistently in non-presidential elections than Democrats' younger, more diverse supporters. But the pandemic was a wildcard. Expanding to universal vote-by-mail, with few in-person polling stations, made predicting turnout more difficult than usual.

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California Assemblywoman Christy Smith, a candidate for the House of Representatives 25th District, speaks to supporters Tuesday, March 3, 2020. (Elly Yu/LAist)

After polls closed, Republicans took a moment to celebrate the historic win.

"[T]he California Republican Party is back and we are poised for victories in November," said California GOP Chair Jessica Millan Patterson in a statement. "I want to put the Democrats on notice. Because of our leadership and your failures, the California Republican Comeback has the momentum going into November."

Garcia is the son of a Mexican immigrant father who moved to the U.S. in the 1950s. He grew up in the Santa Clarita area before graduating from the Naval Academy and flying combat missions over Iraq. After military service, Garcia worked for aerospace contractor Raytheon Technologies, which granted him leave to run for congress.

On Tuesday night, Buck McKeon, the former congressman who represented the district for more than 20 years, reminisced about meeting Garcia when he was a Saugus High School senior. Garcia kept in touch over the years, McKeon said, and approached him about a political run after Hill's victory in the blue wave of 2018.

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"I was so happy to find somebody qualified [to run] that all in the district respect and look up to and feel good about," McKeon said on a conference call with Garcia supporters and the media. "He is going to set the world on fire back here and you're going to be very proud of him."

The campaign to capture this suburban and high desert region is far from over, however.

Voters will get another chance to decide between Garcia and Smith on the November ballot, when the two meet again for a new two-year term.