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Loss of a House seat may advantage California Democrats

On first glance, and also at first gloat, it appeared that California’s impending first-time-ever loss of one seat in Congress might ensure that Democrats lose the small majority they now hold in the House of Representatives, letting Republicans veto almost everything President Biden might want to do.

But conventional wisdom and first gloats are often not what they seem. The details sometimes end up overcoming false initial assumptions.

First, the gloats. One came from state GOP chair Jessica Millan Patterson, she who never had a critical word for ex-President Donald Trump even as he led her party to staggering electoral defeats in California.

Said Patterson, “California Republicans have a better vision (than Democrats) and we’re going to…take back Congress and make the right Californian (Bakersfield’s Kevin McCarthy) speaker of the House.”

Maybe so, maybe not. Republicans crowed for much of the last six months that razor-thin victories in four House races last year portend future big gains for the GOP.

That’s where the details come in. One of those details is that Democrats now outnumber Republicans almost 2-1 among registered voters in this state, an unprecedented margin. Almost one-fourth of the electorate still refuses to declare a party preference when signing up to vote. The majority of no party preference voters (NPPs) have consistently chosen Democrats over Republicans in past elections.

These details matter because of the shuffle that will come from dividing California into 52 congressional districts, not 53. Geographically, every district in California will get slightly larger. In big cities, this could mean district lines shift by a few blocks. In rural areas, the change could amount to miles. No one knows exactly where new district boundaries will lie, pending the arrival of more Census information this summer.

And there’s another detail to consider: While California did not lose population over the last decade, gaining about 6.4 percent (just behind the national rate of a bit more than 7 percent), there was movement, mostly from coastal areas with the most expensive real estate to inland areas where homes generally cost less.

Some district lines must now move eastward to accommodate those changes.

To assess the likely impact of these shifts, go back to the nearly 2-1 deficit the GOP suffers among registered voters.

When geographic lines shift, they always toss some voters into districts held by politicians those voters never previously knew or supported. Most voters getting shuffled will be Democrats or NPPs. So along with the slight geographic changes, clumps of voters will also be thrown from one district into another.

This means the electorate in districts the GOP flipped narrowly last year – margins varied from about 300 votes to about 8,000 – will be different from what it has been.

The most important difference will be that, on average, each district will likely see a slightly higher percentage of Democratic voters than before. Because of today’s registration numbers, that’s inevitable when voters displaced by the disappearance of one district get distributed into others.

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