When candidates started lining up following 25th district Congresswoman Katie Hill’s resignation, a few front runners emerged for this outer ring suburban Los Angeles seat. Former U.S. Representative Steve Knight, who had lost to Hill in 2018, quickly emerged as the GOP candidate while Assemblywoman Christy Smith (D-Santa Clarita) led for the Democrats. Even in February it looked like May would be a Knight-Smith battle. But Republican and former Navy pilot Mike Garcia surged heading into March. By the time the dust settled, Smith nabbed first place in the runoff with 36% of the vote, with Garcia beating Knight for the second ballot spot with 10,000 more votes, 24% to 18%.
A hard fought primary then led to a hard fought special election. Even with coronavirus restrictions in place, the vote is still on for May 12th. Polls have become tighter, with Garcia getting a key endorsement from Knight and analysts moving their classification of the 25th district from ‘leans Democrat’ to ‘toss-up’ in recent weeks. With ads now running almost on a loop and both candidates ramping up in the final weeks, spending has been high. 1st quarter figures prove it.
Assemblywoman Smith ran a hard race to nab the top spot against two strong Republican challengers, with her only real Democrat competition being Young Turks host Cenk Uygur sailing into a distant 4th finish. According to the FEC, Smith recorded $1.16 in raised funds in the first quarter and disbursed $901,000.
Smith’s top group donor was the Equality PAC, a pro-LGBT candidate PAC that gave her campaign $20,000. Los Angeles County Young Democrats gave the second most, totaling $11,200. Union members also gave heavily, with union members and their families accounting for 9 of the top 15 group donors. Retiree’s were Smith’s top individual donor industry, who gave $138,000 to her campaign. Those in the entertainment industry gave just shy of $100,000.
Smith also relied far more heavily on PACs than either Garcia or Knight, clocking in over $250,000 from PACs compared to Garcia who only had $21,000. However Smith also raised above 90% of her money from in-state sources, a much higher percentage than Garcia’s amount.
Mike Garcia scored a come-from-behind victory against former Congressman Knight. Garcia did raise and disburse much more than Knight in Q1, bringing in $1.2 million against Knight’s $257,000 and spending $925,000 against $285 for Knight. It should be noted that Knight ended his campaign after only two full months while Garcia had to continue spending heavily for the May election, resulting in a wide disparity.
While Smith relied upon unions as her top group donors, Garcia heavily favored donations from industries. Six out of his top ten were industrial. However his top group donor of employees and employee family members turned out to be Santa Clarita Studios, a large independent filming and recording studio that gave a cumulative total of $22,400. Defense contractor Raytheon employees gave the second most, amounting to just over $20,000.
Like Smith, Retiree’s were Garcia’s top individual donors, who ended up giving $196,000 for the quarter. Also like Smith he also received just under $100,000 from the entertainment industry. Meanwhile Knight’s largest single contributors were from leadership PACs, giving $33,000 for early 2020. Garcia himself didn’t pull much from PACs as discussed above, but a quarter of his total amount of donations did end up coming from outside of California.
What this means for the 25th
This has been a close race since Hill checked out last year, and you can tell from the high amounts of funding, especially from PACs and out of state sources. Both Garcia and Smith are at the wire here, and most places list the district as being too close to call. Bad memories of Hill, a still strong Republican base, and an opposing Hispanic candidate in a growing Hispanic district are working against Smith while Garcia is facing a majority Democratic voting bloc, a younger population, and an uphill battle in name recognition.
Going into Quarter 2, both candidates are going to be spending a lot up until the election on May 12th. Most races have to worry about coronavirus fundraising concerns and incumbency, but due to the nature of the 25th’s election, it comes without those problems. Ballots are going to peoples houses, and it will really come down to who people really want more. And with everyone staying in and not going out, that means money being the only real game changer left for more ads, more outreach, and whatever else their funds can muster with less than a month to go.
The result of the 25th district election may as well signal where California will side more for this time around in November. Will Republicans take back, or will Democrats hold? With coronavirus putting everything in a flux, the 25th all not in person fundraising and spending could also be emulated by others. All eyes will be on this race in May, at least partially due to how money will get raised and spent by the candidates.
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