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2020 General Election Preview: 23rd Senate District

California Globe takes an inside look into the close 23rd Senate District race

By Evan Symon, October 24, 2020 7:33 am

Curving in an arc across the greater Inland Empire, the 23rd Senate District is pretty much the buffer district of where the urban sprawl of the Inland Empire ends and where the Desert begins. A curious mix of urban, mountains, and desert, the district includes San Bernardino, Rancho Cucamonga, and the resort town of Big Bear Lake.

Urban, suburban, and rural issues abound here, making any big issues hard to peg down. A lot of Los Angelinos have fled here in search of cheaper housing, but funnily enough, a lot of them have been Republican.

Senator Mike Morrell. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

While Democrats do outnumber Republicans in terms of registered voters, a lot more unregistered voters swing right (a common theme in California). With whites and Hispanics making up the vast majority of the population, California Democrats thought for sure every election was theirs to take. And somehow they have been off by at least 5% of the vote. And 2020 has changed things a bit, putting a GOP victory into question.

The GOP has dominated the district the last decade. Former Senator Bill Emmerson was elected in back in 2012, but left the following year after finding he had lost the passion as an elected official. This led the way for Senator Mike Morrell (R-Rancho Cucamonga) to be elected in a special election the next year, winning yet again in 2016 by over 56% of the vote.

Throughout all of this, major state and presidential elections always went comfortably to the GOP as well. Romney won here by a big margin in 2012, with Trump winning by 4% in 2016. Even Cox managed to beat Newsom here by 9 points.

However, 2020 is bringing a lot of changes here. In addition to Democratic voters slowly moving in to the district, Morrell is now term-limited out. A wave of voters against voting for Trump is also hurting the GOP here. For the first time in a long time, the state Senate race is up in the air in the district. Democrat Abigail Medina managed to win the primary with 28% of the vote over two strong Republican candidates, Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh and Lloyd White, with Bogh ending up with the number two spot on the ballot. While all the Republican candidates combined received nearly 60% of the vote back in March, COVID-19 and the economy have shook things up, meaning the race is closer than many people think.

The Candidates:

Senate candidate Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh (Photo: Ochoaboghforsenate)

Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh – In the red corner is Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh. The daughter of immigrants, Bogh graduated from UC Santa Barbara and became a realtor as well as an English as a second language (ESL) teacher. Married to the former Mayor and current City Councilman of Yucaipa, Greg Bogh, Rosilicie began her own political journey last decade. After a stint as president of the Yucaipa Valley Chamber of Commerce, Bogh was elected to the Yucaipa-Calimesa Joint Unified School District school board.

A moderate Republican, Bogh has strong stances on business and education. This year she is showing a lot of cross appeal by her immigration stance, with many Democrats concerned that they are now running a campaign against a Republican who is both a woman and Hispanic, eating into some of their bigger left-leaning voter blocs.

She also has a unique lower tax, lower housing cost approach to help the ailing state. That, along with her homeless plan that focuses on localized assistance rather than a broader state action, is giving her a unique blend of Republican and Democratic solutions to issues. Her stances have been hard to debate from the left or farther right as they tend to wind back up agreeing with her. She used to work with Assemblyman Chad Mayes (I-Yucca Valley), and those moderate right values he had made their mark.

In addition to more Conservative endorsers, many Hispanic groups have been backing Bogh, further embarrassing Democrats who just happen to also have a Hispanic candidate

State Republicans are really testing the waters with a new breed of moderate Republicans this year, and Bogh is yet another they’ll have their eye on.

Senate candidate Abigail Medina (Photo:medinaforsenate)

Abigail Medina – Facing Bogh is Democrat Abigail Medina. Like Bogh, Medina was a daughter of immigrants. But unlike Bogh, who was in real estate and teaching, Medina was a field worker. However, she ran for a San Bernardino City Unified School District board seat in 2013 after witnessing acts or racism against her son. She managed to win a surprise victory and three years later nearly made it to the Assembly, falling just shy of beating out former Republican Assemblyman Marc Steinnorth. Since then she has stayed on point on the board, with state Senator being her next leap up the political ladder in California.

Besides education, Medina is stressing climate change, racial justice, housing, and immigration issues in 2020. While in most races she would easily win over the education crown with her seven years of board experience, she is facing a fellow school board member who is also a former teacher. In fact, Bogh has been canceling out her largest points due to having the same background on a lot of things. However, she is still ahead of Bogh on criminal and racial justice issues by virtue of having them on her platform. And after a year of major race-based protests across the world, Medina has been getting a good amount of support.

A lot of unions are on her side, and Medina is returning the embarrassment on Bogh by grabbing all the education and teacher groups endorsements from her. A lot of lawmakers are on her side to boot, including Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

Bogh is aiming middle class. Medina is aiming working class.

What does this mean?

Medina has been chipping away at Bogh all year in the 23rd, but Bogh does seem to still have enough support to win this one out. It will likely not be above 55%, but it’s still an almost assured victory.

For Bogh, she needs to continue doing what she’s been doing and shutting down all of Medina’s best points. And if she helps turn the Hispanic vote for her in this district, not only will she win for sure, but GOP leaders may take a keen interest in her.

Medina can’t give up this far into the race and really needs to push her issues that don’t fall in line with Bogh’s. She’s made the mistake of accidently agreeing with her, and with Morrell being a positive name for many, she needs to grab those ‘sticking with the party’ people. That means convincing people that a vote for Bogh is a vote for Trump to undecided voters, despite it not even being remotely the case.

The GOP needs a plan to turn the tide around in California in the 2020’s, and there has been an increasing emphasis on going moderate and frustrating Democrats by agreeing with them on things. If Bogh and others win, the GOP might just have a way to turn the tide in California.

If Medina wins, the Democrats will hold on at all costs, as 2024 will bring a huge battle here for the seat.

Bogh is likely the winner here, but it’s not a 100% certainty just yet.

Evan Symon
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