Was The Special Election In California a Rebuke of Centrist Democrats?

California’s 25th House seat had been in the hands of Republicans since 1993, save for the past few years, when the then-longtime Representative Edward R. Roybal retired.  The district had become a stronghold for the GOP despite being a swing district in Presidential elections. One of the major surprises of the 2018 midterm was the emergence of Katie Hill. She was a candidate who ran on healthcare, such as supporting Medicare for All, and restoring the middle class.

However, Hill’s time would be short in Congress due to a scandal of her having an affair with her legislative director, Graham Kelly. Her office was subsequently rocked by leaked nude pictures, which forced her to resign. Hill vacated her position early. The ensuing months had several candidates running to fill her House seat and then run for re-election in the general election.

The Next Steps

The Democratic Party endorsed State Assemblywoman Christy Smith who, unlike Katie Hill, did not share the same stance on health care. Smith was more about lowering the costs of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), rather than Medicare For All. She was more conservative in other areas, such as pushing for the wealthy to pay their fair share in taxes and tepid responses to environmental issues by vowing to take on corporate polluters. Although, Smith didn’t support measures that’d substantially tackle climate change like a Green New Deal.

As polls began to roll in, it became clear that Smith’s centrist policies didn’t exactly inspire similar voter turnout like Katie Hill’s positions did in 2018. Instead, Christy Smith was defeated rather soundly. As it stands, Mike Garcia, the GOP candidate, soundly defeated Smith roughly 56% to 43%. Garcia is the first Republican to take away a Democratic seat in two decades, even if this House seat was blue for a short time.

The defeat shouldn’t come to a surprise, especially after the district knowingly elected someone who pushed for progressive policies. There was hope that the progressive movement in California’s 25th Congressional District would continue forth after Hill’s abrupt resignation. Even still, Garcia’s victory seems like a step backward.

Smith chose to take the center lane with her policies and it backfired. The Democrats would rather regress to the same neoliberal policies that have been failing them for years rather than embrace a progressive platform that resulted in increased voter turnout and a victory for Democrats.

All you have to do is look at the presumptive Presidential nominee Joe Biden to know that.

But, it begs the question: Is what happened in California’s 25th district a sign of things to come? Are voters rebuking moderate platforms that fail to effectively address the right-wing that tilts further and further towards authoritarian stances? We will see in November.  

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