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Former Senator Ling Ling Chang. (Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

2020 General Election Preview: 29th Senate District

California Globe takes an inside look into the close Orange County race

By Evan Symon, October 7, 2020 2:37 am

The 29th Senate District:

Located mainly in northern Orange County with dips in both LA County and San Bernardino County, the 29th Senate District is mainly suburbia. Richard Nixon’s hometown of Yorba Linda is here, as is Fullerton, half of Anaheim, and Diamond Bar.

The district has become highly diverse in the last few decades, with the district now almost entirely Hispanic, white, or Asian. It’s still a relatively wealthy district, but it is also one that’s been increasingly liberal. Registered Democratic voters now outnumber Republicans here after all.

The 29th is also in the epicenter of the YIMBY/NIMBY housing debate in the LA area, with many fights over developments and regulations in the district in the last several years. With the district population growing older, health care, elder care, and nursing home issues are also increasingly important to many residents here.

History of the 29th:

For decades, the area was a reliable pocket of Republican voters. Even in the 1990s, Republicans such as Richard Mountjoy were winning here with over 60% of the vote. But as Democrats dispersed out of the city, the district became more and more purple. By 2012, Republican Senators and Assembly members were barely carrying a majority of votes, and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) managed to get the majority of votes in her Senate race in the district for the first time since 2000.

Democrats finally won the state Senate seat in 2016 with Democrat Josh Newman beating then-Assemblywoman Ling Ling Chang by 3,000 votes. The GOP was furious at losing the 29th, as well as many other Orange County seats, and began a concerted effort to take them back.

But in 2018 their chance came two years earlier than expected. Senator Newman was recalled after voting for the SB 1 gas tax increase bill. After his ousting, voters got to decide again in a special election, this time choosing Chang over a smattering of other candidates. She won big time, garnering 34% of the vote. The closest candidate, Cerritos Mayor Joseph Cho, only managed to get 21% of the vote.

The state Democratic party was particularly riled by the loss. Not only did they lose a part of Orange County that they had fought so hard to get in 2016, but they also lost their supermajority status in the state Senate.

In 2019, Newman came back and announced that he would run again against Senator Ling Ling Chang (R-Diamond Bar), seemingly shedding off the stigma of his recall the year prior. Cho also joined in as many saw that Newman was too big of a liability.

Chang managed to win in March yet again with nearly 48% of the vote.  Newman only managed a second place finish with 33.5% of the vote.

With Chang now winning twice in a row and showing that the GOP are still contenders in Orange County and Newman reclaiming more and more support to re-win a district he had recently lost, the 29th has become one of the most watched state races this year.

This is the second round of Chang V. Newman.

Ling Ling Chang:

Senator Ling Ling Chang. (Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

The current incumbent, the Taiwanese-born Senator Chang began her elected career as a Diamond Bar City Councilwoman in the late 2000’s. In 2014 she was elected to a single term in the state Assembly before losing to Newman in 2016 and then winning the special Senate election two years later.

Now with two years of Senate experience, Chang matches Newman on prior time in the Senate, with the added benefit of never having been recalled.

Chang tends to sway more to the center, even bleeding into the left on certain issues such as health care. But she votes Republican where it counts, especially on taxes and business. The California Chamber of Commerce gives her an 89% approval rating after all. Unions are also all over the place in terms of approving her voting record, firmly establishing her center-right.

Chang’s voting record is also a major draw to the 25% of the county that has no party preference, but still tends to lean right. And she’ll need it this time around as there is no recall to fall back on for extra support.

With her center-left views and many endorsements from both prominent Republicans and local leaders from every city in the district, Chang may prove that Republicans still have a big place in Orange County.

Josh Newman:

Former state Senator Josh Newman. (Photo: Twitter)

Look who’s back.

The veteran’s advocate and former Senator is running again after a roller coaster ride of the last 4 years that saw him win a Senate seat, help make Orange County blue, blow a vote on the gas tax, get recalled, lose the Democrats supermajority status, and then get second place in a primary to get his Senate seat back.

What most voters will remember is his recall over voting for the gas tax increase. A large part of his website is actually devoted to it, with Newman defending his actions.

However, many people seem to have forgiven him, as seen by his mountain of endorsements. Newsom, Feinstein, Harris, Cisneros, Padilla – and that’s only after scrolling briefly down his endorsement list. He has a ton of local and labor support too.

Newman is big on veteran’s issues, but since the primary he has also focused on COVID-19 and homelessness, challenging Chang on them at every turn.

Newman is banking on his issue stances and prior Senate experience to carry him to victory this year, as well as relying on the voter turnout to be overwhelmingly more left-leaning. The district was largely against Trump in 2016, and he’s hoping for party unity to pull him ahead of Chang. But Chang, being the only Asian-American woman in the entire Senate, could also keep many female and Asian voters as a result too, which is why he hasn’t really directly attacked her just yet.

Newman, as well as the Dems, want this seat back, and they’re going to fight hard in the coming weeks for it.

What does this mean?

Both campaigns are pouring money into the campaign, with the race being so close that they’re almost to the point of fighting for individual votes.

Cho supporters from the primary have generally been backing Newman, which may give him a slight edge, as will a higher voter turnout. However a lot of undecided voters in the region tend to vote for the GOP in the end, meaning that Chang could see a rise in votes closer to election day.

And let’s not forget that these are the same voters that came out to recall Newman only two years ago. The recall is still fresh in the minds of many voters there, and not in a way that’s beneficial for Newman.

If Newman can rise above that and get a good draw of people voting Democrat, he’s likely in. But if Chang pushes that recall more and focuses on getting the above-55 crowd to vote for her, then she can get reelected.

The GOP is doing everything they can to keep the seat while Democrats are fighting vigorously to take it back.

It’s going to be close.

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Evan Symon
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