As I am writing this piece we are officially 8 days away from Election Night. Across the Presidential race, as well as the Senate and House races, people seem to have a grasp on the competitive races. North Carolina, Florida, Iowa, and Pennsylvania on the Presidential level, Iowa and North Carolina in the Senate races, and a smattering of house races across the country such as VA-05, OK-05, MO-02, and IN-05. But I want to direct everyone’s attention to two house seats that are rated as Safe Democratic. No matter how these races go, they will be in a Democrat’s hand because they are Dem vs. Dem races. I’m talking about Washington’s 10th district and California’s 53rd district. The way these two races go could have lasting effects in the future on the pathway of the Democratic Party.
Why These Races?
Now, there are other Dem vs. Dem races in the nation this year, with a couple more in California. The rest of those races have an incumbent in them and are not expected to be competitive. These two races are open, though. Both have a clear divide between the mainstream Democratic Party and the Justice Democrats in who their favored candidate is.
This is really important, especially to those aligned with Justice Democrats. As I mentioned in a previous article, progressive challengers have generally struggled out West, most especially in Washington and California. This is due to their top-two primary system. This is partially because it is hard to completely knock out the incumbent and face a Republican. That gives progressives a challenge since general knowledge would see Republicans vote for the more moderate candidate. With a clear divide between progressives and moderates in both races, I think it’s important to pay attention to these two races as a baseline for how progressives can do in this system of voting.
Whoever represents California’s 53rd district might not last very long. That’s because the state is expected to lose a house district, knocking California back down to 52 seats. The current iteration of the seat is based in eastern San Diego and its suburbs. It has only voted for a Republican statewide twice (both times for the Governator, Arnold Schwarzenegger) and has been represented by Susan Davis its entire existence. Davis is retiring and that has opened up this seat for taking.
Surprisingly for a seat like this, only two major Democrats stepped up to run: Georgette Gomez, the President of the San Diego City Council, and Susan Jacobs, a local businesswoman. Jacobs is also rather wealthy, being the granddaughter of the founder of Qualcomm. She also came in with lots of controversy, with claims of her trying to buy a seat and truthful claims about her carpetbagging. That final claim is rather obvious: she barely lost to Mike Levin for the second spot in California’s 49th district last cycle. Armed with millions of dollars, Jacobs was able to take the first spot in the primary, with Gomez taking second.
Who’s Endorsed Who
The endorsements in this race have been generally split along ideological lines. Gomez is endorsed by the Justice Democrats, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Jacobs is endorsed by Abby Finkenauer, Harley Rouda, Andy Kim, and Eleni Kounalakis. There is some divergence for each candidate, as Catherine Cortez-Masto has endorsed Gomez while Eric Swalwell has endorsed Jacobs.
The ideological division is pretty clear amongst these two candidates, though. Gomez would become the latest member of Justice Democrats to make it to Congress, while Jacobs would be much closer to the establishment. This is so far a telling race, and if polling is to be believed, Jacobs is favored. Jacobs has led all three public polls by double-digits against Gomez, with no candidate reaching 50% in any due to high numbers of undecideds. Jacobs has reached 40% in the most recent poll, which is a good sign for her. This would put her as a decent favorite in the race in my view. Do not however underestimate Gomez here, however, especially with the high number of undecideds in the race.
In Washington’s 10th district, we have two relatively different candidates. Marilyn Strickland, the former mayor of Tacoma, will face off against Beth Doglio, a State House representative. Once again, there is a solidly clear ideological split between the two candidates. Strickland is endorsed by most of the Congressional Black Caucus, which is still one of the more moderate caucuses in Congress for Democrats. Doglio, on the other hand, is endorsed by Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Pramila Jayapal, and Ro Khanna. Doglio is not backed by Justice Democrats but did recently get the backing of Ocasio-Cortez.
This race has a few underlying storylines. Strickland, if elected, would be the first African American to serve the state of Washington in Congress. Strickland has also had some controversy, though. She was well known by progressives for backing the perceived attempted takeover of the Seattle City Council by Amazon. This has made some progressives want more attention paid to this race. Strickland’s record is rather business-friendly, while Doglio has taken stronger stances on progressive issues. Doglio is especially focused on climate and has been an activist on the issue for decades.
This is another interesting race, but is again one where the lines have seemingly been drawn. Strickland leads Doglio by 21 points in the only poll released for this district. It was from two months ago, however, and did have a high amount of undecided voters. But it looks like again, the more moderate candidate will beat the progressive in an open D v D seat.
Should Progressives Pay Attention to these Races?
My answer to this is yes. These races are important for progressives to win and they are crucial for them to grow their numbers out west. A lack of focus on these seats, at least in the mainstream, is part of why progressives have struggled in Washington and California. It’s not just about making it past the primary. It’s more than likely about beating the incumbent in the general with Republicans and independents both forced to choose between two Democrats. Without proper backing, progressive candidates will lose that race most of the time.