Located inside both Los Angeles County and San Bernardino County, the 21st Senate District is an area filled with wealthy, LA-adjacent commuter suburbs. Victorville, Santa Clarita, and Palmdale are just a few of the cities here, with nearby Apple Valley on the verge of becoming a major transportation center thanks to being the future LA stop for the LA to Las Vegas high speed train.
Suburban issues are big here, as are environmental concerns thanks to being on the edge of the desert. They care about Los Angeles, but many of the cities are just North enough that it isn’t a main concern for most, except when LA County passes something big.
While the district has had more registered Democrats for years, thanks in part to LA residents moving here for cheaper rents and property, Republicans still win here regularly. A lot of right-of-center people in this district are not registered, skewing the projections each election year. In 2020, all signs of right-leaning voters having an edge still hold true, but the lead is now more narrow compared to previous elections.
The 21st has had a turbulent string of Senators and elections since redistricting. In 2012, former GOP Senator Sharon Runner, who herself had only been elected in the year before following her husband, the former Senator George Runner, moving to another post, decided not to run due to health concerns. This paved the way for Republican Assemblyman Steve Knight to be elected. However, Knight only served a few years of his term as he was elected to Congress in 2014. A special election in 2015 brought Sharon Runner back, who won with over 94% of the vote in a special election. But she only served until the next year when she died following a lung transplant.
Senator Scott Wilk (R-Santa Clarita) was the next candidate and won the election in 2016 over Democrat Johnathon Levar Ervin, 53% to 47%. Senator Wilk has managed to remain in office since, giving the Senate seat the most stability it has seen in over a decade.
But 2016 wasn’t a fluke for the GOP. Gubernatorial candidate John Cox had more votes for Governor here in 2018, with Gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari winning by nearly 60% only 4 years prior.
Democratic Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton received more votes than Trump in this district in 2016, but only by a few percentage points.
Democrats have been trying to get local and state seats here for years, with this Senate seat one of the biggest prizes. It’s a part of LA county represented by a Republican, and many Democrats can’t stand letting that be.
Democrats tapped the young 33-year old Kipp Mueller to try and displace Wilk this year. With a lot of anti-Trump fervor mobilizing Democrats to vote, especially in the 21st District, it could be enough to finally turn the seat over to another party.
Senator Scott Wilk – Coming into the 2020 election, Senator Wilk has a resume that impresses both Republicans and Democrats alike. A small businessman and former legislative staffer, Wilk was first elected to the Santa Clarita College District Board of Trustees in 2006. After being reelected a few times Wilk next ran for and won the 38th Assembly District seat. After four years there, Wilk won the Senate seat.
Wilk has proven to be more a Moderate Republican, which has helped secure his victory in prior elections, like Assemblyman Chad Mayes (I-Yucca Valley) by reaching out to moderate and DINO Democrats, and winning with their support. While he is supportive of businesses, property rights, and gun rights, Wilk has also shown a sensitivity for wildlife issues and agriculture. In fact, except for his voting record on traditional-right issues such as abortion rights, and some traditional-left issues, Wilk has been pretty fair-weather, with most organizations giving him at least a passing grade when it comes to ranking his performance. Even Democrats have shown support for Wilk in the past.
And with Wilk breaking with Republicans this year over several issues, including backing the Affirmative Action ballot measure Prop 16, Democrats may be a bit conflicted when voting. His platform reflective of his district, is straight Moderate Republican, with enough issue stances for both sides to appreciate him, and for both sides to disapprove of him.
Every city in the district has their top lawmakers backing Wilk, along with organizations like the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and public safety unions.
Armenian organizations also back him, which could come in handy due to many Armenian-Americans in the area already being mobilized politically in the last few weeks.
Wilk has the kind of broad support most Republicans crave, and he’s going to make it tough for any challenger to beat him.
Kipp Mueller – Kipp Mueller is young, Democrat, and hopes to finally take back the district. After graduating from Berkeley and Columbia in both 2008 and 2014 respectively, Mueller worked as a lawyer for both the Department of Justice and the Santa Clara District Attorney’s Office. He is now a worker’s rights and illegal immigrant asylum attorney, representing unions against private sector employers.
It’s no shock that unions love him, with Mueller getting most of their backing for his run against Wilk. Middle class protections, healthcare, women’s rights, homelessness, and climate change are all on Mueller’s platform this election, hoping to draw more votes out from Los Angeles residents who recently moved here.
But that has also proved to be a major speed bump for Mueller. Wilk and his supporters have had a field day labeling Mueller as someone who only moved here to run for the Senate office, as Mueller only moved into the district less than a year ago. Longtime residents have taken notice. But on the flip side, many transplants are on Mueller’s side.
You can tell that the Democrats want this district badly just by the endorsements he’s been getting, such as Presidential candidate Joe Biden and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. Besides public safety unions, every labor union from teachers to the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) back him too, as there is no doubt whose side he is on with labor.
Mueller is reaching a lot of people this year, but even with all of his momentum, Wilk is still staying ahead.
What does this mean?
Wilk won the Primary in March by a large margin, with 54% over all the other candidates combined. And he’s kept up the lead ever since.
Mueller has been attempting to reach usual left-leaning and middle of the road Wilk voters by pushing the Trump angle, but it has had only limited success. To many in the district he is still an outsider who moved here to simply get elected, and that’s a hard image to shed. New residents generally want a Democrat in office, but the staying power of the GOP in this district is substantial.
If this were any other year, Mueller would have gone to fairs and community events and shown himself as a man of the district. But due to COVID-19 he hasn’t been able to. Wilk, meanwhile, has that image. It also doesn’t hurt that Wilk has a history of being moderate and supporting causes on both sides of the political spectrum.
Mueller has largely only supported Democratic-leaning issues. He’s also sued businesses, something that hasn’t exactly won him a lot of favors from the business community.
Wilk will likely win the election despite tightening polls. If it had been a normal year and Mueller had lived here a bit longer, he likely would be out ahead right now. But he’s failed to change and chip away at Wilk’s strengths.
The 21st is still a warning to the GOP that the district is a risk, but at least for 2020, Wilk will likely keep it for the party for four more years.
It will be close though.